Homage to implausible 90s action films, Olympus Has Fallen was directed by Antoine Fuqua ( Brooklyn’s Finest , Shooter , Training Day ) and written by Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt. Its release last year went largely unnoticed by me, probably because it wasn’t a Thursday night where I just wanted something to zone out to… but is that what happened?
Apart from being packed with big names – Aaron Eckhart is the President of the US, Gerald Butler is someone from the Secret Service who’s good at punching and shooting things, Morgan Freeman is in there – the 90s vibe coming from the film really was strong. If the film was a bottle of red wine, sniffing it would bring back memories of Under Siege and Air Force One with a hint of Die Hard 2 . Not that this is completely a good thing. Despite my intention of zoning out, I was greeted with a film that was pushing my ability or acceptance to suspend my disbelief and yet drawing me in at the same time.
For instance, Gerald Butler is playing one of the unluckiest Secret Service agents (Mike Banning) ever dreamed of. He failed to save the life of the First Lady during the film’s opening events and then ends up with a desk job that sees him suddenly facing off against a bunch of Korean terrorists after looking like this kind of crap would never happen to him again. It’s like bad luck trails after him, like any other 90s action hero, but this side of 2010 it doesn’t quite work. Mike Banning manages to avoid being shot by mini-guns on the aground and in the air and spends much of the film unwounded until an unfortunate incident with an impromptu skylight. The lack of actual damage to Banning for so long in the film makes his character less believable than John McClane.
Death from all and any angles
Still, Banning is far more convincing than the various methods on offer for major and minor characters to be killed without a moment’s notice. The aforementioned mini-guns do a great job in mowing down not just members of the public, who all fail to think that getting down low on the ground is a good idea, but the supposedly expert staff of the Secret Service. Once the military are on the scene, they also seem to be a tad blasé about the risks of the kinds of weaponry they’re going up against.
The host of weaponry on offer at risk in the film also escalates to largely unbelievable levels with the introduction of “Cerberus”, an advanced anti-nuclear weapons system that allows the heads of the US government to stop their nukes being misused through detonating them… The only access to this system is through a bunker underneath the White House. You need three different passwords to use it. My disbelief was pushed further to breaking point by the idea that the government never thought there was a way for the system to be abused. Despite this, however, it still kind of worked as a plot point and was easy for you to not think about too much.
Despite the ballsyness of many of the film’s plot points, I was able to enjoy the film. Getting the President’s young son out of the White House and his method of extraction made more sense than much else in the film and you’re quite compelled to want him to avoid tragedy. Similarly, you did end-up rooting for Banning to succeed against all the odds.
What didn’t necessarily work was the blood thirsty nature of many of the film’s bad guys/gals, who all seemed pretty sadistic without having much characterisation towards why this should be. The Korean characters who played the bad guys were potentially all North Koreans originally and it’s just assumed that this would give them an immense bloodlust. We understand why Banning really wants to help the President, but only his motivations are clear, the antagonists of the film just seem to be hung up over the Korean War and that’s it, bar one line of background given about the leader.
If, like me, you were just looking for something on Netlfix to watch, because you didn’t feel like much else, then it’s worth having a gander. But I can’t recommend this as a good example of an action film, because so many of the plot points are too incoherently explained or not at all. With big guns must come the opportunity to suspend one’s disbelief.