DVD Release Date: August 13, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: March 22, 2013
Rating: R (for strong violence and strong language throughout)
Genre: Action Drama
Run Time: 120 min
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Cast: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Dylan McDermott, Rick Yune, Melissa Leo, Ashley Judd

As culture and media steadily coarsen, the ante continues to be raised on what level of content is deemed permissible in mainstream entertainment. The surest way to provoke a reaction is to be more graphic than what’s come before. Regarding violence, Olympus Has Fallen takes that next step for base Hollywood action movies – and does so in two ways. 

One, pure volume. We’ve seen bloody killings before, no doubt, but once the carnage starts here it rarely lets up.  What used to pass for graphic money shots are now standard throughout, with so many staged for the clear intent of basking in the brutality. Two, the context.  It’s one thing when sicko villains perpetrate violence to elicit an audience’s repulsion. It’s another when the hero does just as much in order to get the crowd cheering, and even evoke a perverse jingoism. 

In short, Olympus Has Fallen isn’t the mindless action fun you may have been hoping for. Sure, it’s stupid (and more on that shortly), but what makes this truly vile is the level of blood lust that fuels the good guy. For example, he both promises and delivers on the threat to stab a terrorist in the head until he’s dead (not to mention the countless gun-to-head point blank killings, fully visualized). And then the movie has the audacity to wrap all that brutality up in the American flag. This is video game violence porn cloaked in cornball patriotism – and you’re expected to applaud it.

The premise is simple: Die Hard in the White House. Apparently, though, that’s easier conceived than done. In a post-9/11 world – one in which an elderly person can be accosted for just trying to get through airport security – it would take a lot of intelligence, skill, and resources to make a siege of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue credible. 

Suffice it to say, Olympus Has Fallen (the code phrase for capture and control of the White House) doesn’t even make a cursory effort at plausibility. In fact, the ease with which a group of North Korean terrorists take the premises and hold President Asher (Aaron Eckhart, Battle Los Angeles) and his Cabinet members hostage defies all logic. 

It’s predicated on nothing short of the worst breach of security, intelligence, and armed forces protocol one could possibly imagine. Maybe this shouldn’t come as a surprise; even the film’s prologue depicts another completely avoidable tragedy as the result of bizarre Secret Service decision making (note to agents: don’t ever take a Presidential motorcade through a blizzard). One could say that at least the movie follows its own internal illogic, but that would only emphasize its problems rather than excuse them.

The primary reason for this lethally botched opener, of course, is to set the stage for Agent Mike Banning’s redemption. Fired from the Presidential detail after that ill-fated winter disaster, Banning (Gerard Butler, Playing For Keeps) ends up being the only skilled man on the outside who can infiltrate the White House grounds and save the day. Pretty standard fare, as formula plots go, even though it requires yet another sinkhole of logic as to why there is literally no other option than That Guy (who, incidentally, must first save the President’s son because the kid didn’t have any agents protecting him).

The raid itself boggles the mind. Seeing a North Korean terrorist militia, armed to the teeth, descend on Washington D.C. – through both land and air – and be able to do so completely undetected is implausible enough. Then to see them raid and capture the Presidential mansion unabated by any form of response from U.S. forces or security is completely and utterly ridiculous. It’s as if they were invading my house, not the White House.

Setting aside the film’s confounding premise, the remaining plot machine that unfolds is boilerplate in both action and dialogue – albeit with excessive violence. North Korean terrorists want to restart the Korean War, apparently, so they hold hostage, threaten, torture, and sadistically kill members of the President’s staff. As these rebels make demands so impossible that they defy time, space, and matter, Banning sneaks through the White House corridors John McClane style… minus the style. Unless, of course, you call gory methodical killings punctuated by cheesy one-liners style. 

The film’s lazy excuse for a “response” team is having the Speaker of the House (Morgan Freeman, The Dark Knight Rises), the Secret Service Agency Director (Angela Bassett, This Means War), a General and an aide (whose sole purpose is to spout unrelenting exposition with a panic-stricken look on his face), essentially do nothing but watch and spout dramatics from a control room. That and Banning’s worried wife/Super Nurse serve as the perfunctory cutaway b-plots.

Even with all of the excesses considered, what ultimately makes Olympus Has Fallen unbearable is its own self-import. Director Antoine Fuqua (Shooter) seems to believe he’s paying tribute to the brave agents of our Secret Service, and even inspiring us to honor them. The problem is he attempts this with a premise that requires our agents to be the stupidest, laziest, weakest, and completely unprepared group of intelligence officers the world has ever seen. The only way this movie happens is if the entire Secret Service and Intelligence community fail – multiple times, at historic proportions. This isn’t a tribute; it’s an insult.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol Content: Casual alcohol consumption; no drunkenness.
  • Language/Profanity: Strong language throughout.  The F-word is commonly used, as are most others – include a few instances of the Lord’s name taken in vain, along with a couple of crude/vulgar terms.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity: A few instances of married couples kissing. 
  • Violence/Other: Excessively violent, visualizing gory killings throughout.  Victims of a car crash, bloody slashed heads.  Multiple point-blank to the head killings, graphically shown.  Aftermath of a suicide bomber explosion.  Innocent civilians mowed down and slaughtered by terrorist gunfire.  Two different people stabbed in the head, another stabbed in the neck.  Bloody bullet-hole wounds shown.  Lots of bloody killings in general, many indiscriminate and graphic.  Severed limbs, cracked bones, assassinations of officials.  Captives held hostage, with vile and lethal threats made toward them.  A woman is beaten and dragged around by the hair.  Other people beaten/tortured as well.  Hand-to-hand violence and brutality.

Publication date: March 22, 2013