Olympus Has Fallen has one of the higher body counts of a film that doesn’t take place on the beaches of Normandy that I’ve ever seen.
It starts right out of the gate: Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is in a motorcade taking President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) and his wife (Ashley Judd) to a fundraising event on Camp David. Ominously, it is snowing. (And because Olympus Has Fallen has all the subtlety of a WWE Pay-Per-View event, anything that appears ominous IS ominous.) Yup, the cars skid off the road and crash—the First Lady’s head is smashed (gorily) into the window and she’s trapped in her seat belt, as the car dangles over a cliff. When the car begins to fall, Banning can only save the president, who watches in horror as his wife (and the two agents in the front seat) plummet to their deaths. Because Banning assured the president he would save his wife, he is now a broken shell of a man in need of a redemption arc. Which leads to a few thoughts:
1. Is this officially an Ashley Judd cameo, or has her career really come to playing doting wives who die in the first five minutes of the film? (All of this will be a moot point of course, when she becomes the next Democratic Senator of the great state of Kentucky!) (Too political?)
2. What exactly did Banning do wrong to require a redemption arc? Also, can we ever have a story about a Secret Service agent who doesn’t screw up in the first act? (Short answer: No.)
Anyway, fast forward a year later and Banning is now working in security at the Treasury. The president, a single father raising his precocious son Connor (Finley Jacobsen), is hosting the Prime Minister of South Korea at the White House. That’s when all hell breaks loose: Bombs go off, fighter planes raid the sky, North Korean terrorists wielding machine guns storm the White House. It’s a full-scale invasion. The president is ushered, along with his South Korean dignitaries, into an underground bunker. Bad move: Turns out the Prime Minister’s chief of security Kang (Rick Yune), is a North Korean terrorist behind all the mayhem. He kills the Prime Minister and all the secret service guys, ties up the president, along with other high ranking officials including Melissa Leo as the Secretary of Defense.
At this point, the only way for this to turn into a one-man-against-the-world, Die Hard Goes to the White House style vigilante film is to kill off all the White House security—in truly rococo fashion—so that Banning is now literally America’s LAST HOPE! Talk about an opportunity for redemption. These don’t come around that often, Banning, you better take advantage of it—which he does, using his knowledge as a former Secret Service agent to enter the bowels of the White House and fight the terrorists from within. Of course, it’s absurd that Banning would still have security clearance to even get into the White House, but if you’re going to sweat details like that, you have zero shot at liking this film.
I’ll give credit to director Antoine Fuqua: He’s having a ball. He knows that this is jingoistic propaganda and he lays the D.C. iconography on thick (what Banning does with the bust of Abraham Lincoln needs to be seen to be believed.)
Butler is sufficiently macho and cocky as Banning (but are there no American action actors left? *weeps*). Aaron Eckhart is solidly appealing as the dishy President Asher and Morgan Freeman projects his usual effortless gravitas as the Speaker of the House, now the acting president. But I absolutely loved Melissa Leo as the feisty, patriotic Secretary of Defense. She doesn’t literally sing the Star Spangled Banner as the baddies try to beat nuclear security codes out of her, but she comes close.
Yeah, this film is risible, silly, over-the-top, and excessively bloody—but I can’t say I didn’t sort of enjoy it. (I haven’t even mentioned Dylan McDermott—Clint Eastwood’s partner in the far superior Secret Service flick In the Line of Fire, by the way—as a former agent turned North Korean terrorist! Good times.)
The film, if you like such things, qualifies as a guilty pleasure. But let’s just keep that between you and me, shall we?