An attempt to pull off Die Hard in the White House, Olympus Has Fallen is a baffling failure in almost every way.
The story is pretty simple. North Korean terrorists, led by cookie-cutter psychopath Kang (Rick Yune), take over the White House and hold President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) hostage along with Secretary of Defense McMillan (Melissa Leo) and Vice President Rodriguez (Phil Austin) in order to remove US forces from Korea. Speaker of the House Trumball (Morgan Freeman) is brought in as acting Commander-in-Chief and things look grim…until a disgraced Secret Service Agent (and former special forces solider) Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) manages to make it into the White House to wage one man war on the terrorists.
Right off the bat, I have to say that I have no idea how a movie this bad came from this pool of talent both in front of and behind the camera. Director Antoine Fuqua is fairly reliable, particularly when it comes to this kind of movie. And hell, the man made Training day. He has skills. The cast, likewise, is insanely stacked with talent. Freeman, Butler, Leo, Eckhart, Dylan McDermott, Ashley Judd, Angela Basset, Cole Hauser, Robert Forrester and Rick Yun are like a dream team of people you would want in a movie like this. There is only so much the actors can do with bad material I guess but their performances across the board were embarrassingly melodramatic and cartoonishly macho.
The film’s writing is absolutely horrible with dialogue that is meant to be equal parts inspiring and badass but comes off as corny and ridiculous. Attempts at biting one-liners are frankly embarassing and groan inducing. Motivations for characters throughout the movie, particuarly on the bad guy side, are ill defined when they aren’t missing altogether and no one is fleshed out in any more than a cursory way.
The action and effects are also pretty bad all the way through with generic shoot outs and hand to hand fights that make very little sense. The fighting is fairly strange in that usually well choreographed fights make some kind of sense in terms of the moves being performed in response to other moves. Here we have characters who are supposed to be well trained but have a hard time with fairly basic knife disarms and choke escapes. It takes pretty bad choreography for viewers to notice that the move selection of the fighters is faulty and nonsensical. This might sound like a nitpick but it is hard to buy into Banning as a legit badass when a one handed choke stymies him. Action should have been this movie’s saving grace but it sucked roughly about as much as everything else in the film which is to say: A lot.
There is really no getting around that this is a Die Hard clone and that isn’t bad in and of itself. There have been plenty of those in all sorts of locations from boats to trains to Air Force One and some have been great and some not so great. The idea of one lone survivor having to defy the odds against a vastly superior force is a compelling concept that people want to get behind. It seems kind of like a natural progression to set one at the White House. This film gets that concept right insofar as they have terrorists holding hostages and one tough talking badass to save the day, but it misses the not so secret ingredient to the formula. The successful versions of this concept all have one thing in common: the hero is clever. John McClaine is an every man, just a cop who finds himself in a really bad situation (a lot) and has to survive that situation with his wits. That is the only thing that gives him the advantage against overwhelming odds. Banning in Olympus Has Fallen trades cleverness with general badassery which sounds just as good but amounts to just being able to kill everyone better and failing entirely to die despite constant tactical missteps and decidedly unclever gun fights.
The tactical errors here are myriad. I am not a soldier or military strategist but I do know that telling your enemy that they don’t have to search for someone because you have already saved them is a bad idea. Instead of them wasting resources on a goose chase now they are just focusing on you again. Good Job. Likewise, giving away your position by returning fire while running when just running could have kept them from knowing exactly where you were. I really hope that we train our special forces soldiers better than this.
Following from above, this movie is annoyingly overly patriotic with constant pandering in speeches about how great we are and how we have the best toughest military in the world while showing nothing but incompetence in defending our nation’s capitol and recapturing it. It is insulting to our Secret Service and armed forces to suggest that North Korean terrorists could take the White House in 13 minutes. I might be naive but I have to believe that it would be more difficult to pull off what the movie offers. It is weird that the movie asks us to buy into how strong and badass the US is while showing it get its ass handed to it. Sure, one could argue that the movie suggests that one lone American can take out a whole incursion force by himself but it does that after showing dozens of agents, police and soldiers get shot down like they were nothing. It is also weird that the lone American in this case is a Scott but hey, whatever, Butler is usually pretty badass so I’ll let that slide.
Conclusion [4.0 out of 10]
This movie is a mess from top to bottom. So much is wrong with it that it is hard to fit it all into one review. That being said, the movie is still very entertaining if you enjoy bad movies. Fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000 will find a lot to love here and I can’t wait to see what the Rifftrax guys do with this one. So on that level, the movie is fun and hilarious. I can’t recommend it in any kind of serious way as it is godawful but it is very funny if you are into making fun of bad movies.