The Good: Decent performances, Attempts at character/character development, Effects/tension.
The Bad: Increasingly absurd and predictable plot
The Basics: Shakier than many might want to admit, Olympus Has Fallen is engaging . . . so long as one shuts off their brain.
Sometime, admittedly, a work suffers in my estimation because of when I encounter it. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is true. In the case of Olympus Has Fallen I feel less bad about my bias. My wife and I have been watching Babylon 5 (reviewed here!) nightly and that show features a cast of characters who tend to have a sense of personal ethics and a backbone. One of the themes of the show is the value of sacrificing the individual to service the greater good. Apparently, the writers of Olympus Has Fallen either never watched Babylon 5 or did not embrace the themes.
It’s too bad, because Babylon 5 is quite a bit smarter than Olympus Has Fallen and I spent much of the film waiting for one of the characters to make things easy and thus defuse the entire situation. Up until the film’s last ten minutes, a perfectly reasonable solution to the hostage situation the film focuses on was for any one of the four relevant hostages to sacrifice themselves and thus effectively neuter the hostage-takers. In fact, the President makes things more dangerous for the members of his staff whom he encourages to surrender!
At Christmastime, the American President, Banjamin Asher and his family are headed to an event when their motorcade is attacked and the first lady is killed. A year and a half later, the secret service agent (Mike Banning) who was blamed for failing to protect her is eager to return to White House Security. Asher has the South Koreans to the White House to talk about the growing nuclear threat from North Korea. At that time, the White House is attacked and in securing the President and his guests in the subterranean bunker below the White House, the President and Secret Service inadvertently lock themselves in with the masterminds behind the attack. The North Korean terrorist Kang, who had worked with the U.S. as a South Korean diplomat to carry out his acts of terrorism and the traitorous American, Forbes, take the President, Defense Secretary and others hostage in order to get the codes to a nuclear weapons deactivation system known as Cerberus.
While the President holds out against torture and allows his brutalized staff to comply to protect them, the Speaker Of The House, Trumbull, is elevated to the Presidency to deal with the current crisis. Even as Kang and his forces work over the staff for the Cerberus codes, Banning infiltrates the wreckage of the White House to find the President’s son, Connor, to prevent him from being used against the President. As the effort to save the hostages and avert all-out war with North Korea comes from Trumbull’s apparent willingness to accede to Kang’s demands to remove U.S. troops from South Korea and the Pacific, Banning acts as eyes and ears inside the besieged White House.
The tragedy of Olympus Has Fallen is not that it depicts an incredibly brutal series of events (there is no entertainment value to watching Melissa Leo’s Secretary Of Defense McMillan getting brutalized), it is in that most of it is entirely avoidable based on a single act of sacrifice. But, more than that, on the character front, none of them are presented as being smart enough to realize that. Olympus Has Fallen features the obvious and familiar dichotomy of politicians being spineless jerks who fold and are generally unprincipled and only soldiers, secret service officers, etc. (who have a decidedly more militaristic bent) can hold out against violent adversaries. Accepting the conceit of the Cerberus device, which had the activation codes split up among four people, it makes perfect sense that either all four people would never be allowed in the same place at the same time (much like one of the members of the Cabinet being kept away from the State Of The Union Address in order to protect the line of succession) or, barring that, the moment one of the four people with the codes realizing what Kang had planned to commit an act of sacrifice.
So, I was a bit disappointed.
To be fair to Olympus Has Fallen, the film did not take the most obvious plot progressions it could have. I kept waiting for, late in the film when all else had failed, Banning’s partner, Leah, to get abducted and thus force him to stand down. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. Still, most of Olympus Has Fallen progresses in an obvious and pretty brutal way.
What is better-than-average is the acting. Gerard Butler is credible as Mike Banning and he, predictably, gets through the action sequences exceptionally well. More than that, he actually displays his charisma (which I usually refer to as “alleged charisma”) in the early scenes of the film, making the character seem likable and smart enough to be a credible secret service agent. To his credit, Dylan McDermott – who as recently as five years ago would have been credibly up for the role of Banning – plays Forbes with a character-appropriate level of dispassion and conniving, never hinting that he could have been the film’s action hero.
Rick Yune is decent as Kang, though he plays the most horrible version of a patriot. Kang is calculating, but comes in with a plan and an efficient demeanor which Yune plays perfectly. At the opposite end of the spectrum is Melissa Leo as McMillan. Leo’s performance is difficult to watch as her character is pretty horribly brutalized by the terrorists. It’s impossible not to watch Melissa Leo in Olympus Has Fallen and not have one’s stomach tighten in disgust; so realistically does she portray getting tormented. Aaron Eckhart is appropriately presidential in his bearing as President Benjamin Asher.
But, I suspect the reason Morgan Freeman is getting so much high praise for his performance in Olympus Has Fallen is that, in the role of Trumbull, he seems anything but Presidential. It’s hard to imagine Morgan Freeman as not being commanding, powerful, confident and smart enough to lead the free world, but he makes Trumbull uncertain and shaky at the beginning and the performance is a wonderful one because it goes against any number of other performances we have seen from Freeman (or interviews with the actor himself).
Still, it is not enough to save Olympus Has Fallen from “average” territory. Go in with low expectations and it is fine, but for enlightened folk, it is a much harder sell.
For other works with Melissa Leo, please check out my reviews of:
Welcome To The Rileys
The L Word - Season Two
Hide And Seek
Homicide: Life On The Street
For other film reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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