Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is a former US Army Ranger with all the skills necessary to protect the President. When an auto accident on an icy bridge leaves the presidential limousine dangling and about to fall into an icy river, Banning makes the tough decision of saving President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) but leaving First Lady Margaret Asher (Ashley Judd) behind. The car slips over the edge and the First Lady dies. While everyone agrees Banning made the right decision, the President has him reassigned to a desk job in the Treasury Department. Secret Service director Lynne Jacobs (Angela Bassett) tells Banning it’s because the President doesn’t want a daily reminder of the accident as part of his protection detail. Banning wants to get back to his old job and the stress is taking a toll on his marriage to ER nurse Leah Banning (Radha Mitchell). Eighteen months after the death of the First Lady, the South Korean Prime Minister is coming to the White House to discuss recently increased tensions with North Korea. As the meeting gets started, a plane violates restricted air space around the White House and as a precaution, the President, Vice President, the South Korean Prime Minister, his entire delegation and the President’s National Security team are taken to the secure bunker several hundred feet beneath the Oval Office. The plane, a stolen AC-130 gun ship, shoots down two Air Force fighter jets sent to warn it off, then opens fire on the White House. Civilians in the crowd outside the residence reveal themselves to be heavily armed guerilla soldiers who initiate several attacks that breach the outer fence and allow access to the grounds. Garbage trucks have been converted to mobile machine gun platforms and take out any security coming from outside. Banning, who can see the attack on the White House from his desk, heads over to offer whatever assistance he can. Meanwhile, in the secure bunker, most of the South Korean delegation pull weapons, kill all the security and take over. Their leader, Kang Yeonsak (Rick Yune) is a dangerous North Korean terrorist who, while not working for the communist government, is trying to unify the Koreas by any means he sees fit. Banning manages to get inside the White House and begins playing a game of cat and mouse as he tries to avoid the terrorists and find the President’s son Connor (Finley Jacobsen) to get him out of the building. He also is trying to gain enough intelligence to give the acting president, House Speaker Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman), enough information to formulate an attack plan to free President Asher and the rest of the hostages.
“Olympus Has Fallen” will not win any awards for smart script writing, original concepts or rational storytelling. What it might win is the hard-earned entertainment dollar of millions of Americans as the film tells a dumb story in a rousing way. The only advice I can offer any potential viewers is to not think about the plot too much.
“Olympus Has Fallen” is very capable of ramping up the tension and gets started early with the car accident that kills the First Lady. My stomach tightened up as Banning struggled to free the President from his seat belt and I could feel his anguish as he realized he could only save one of them. The attack on the White House, largely done with CGI, was far more disturbing than I expected it would be. Rationally, I know it’s all either computer generated or a set on some soundstage or back lot; but watching bullets rip through the White House, bombs blow up the fence and all the Secret Service agents mowed down by the terrorists, it actually made me angry. I wanted to jump into the screen with a semi-automatic rifle and kill me some bad guys. It’s rare a film is able to generate that kind of emotion from me but when it happens it deserves some recognition.
When the film shifts to Banning moving stealthily around the White House looking for Connor, the tension is ratcheted up again. Will there be a terrorist lying in wait around the next corner prepared to kill our hero? Will a struggle with one of these killers alert the rest to Banning’s location and send a wave of death his way? Will he be able to find Connor and get him to safety? Is there any way he can pull off this rescue alone? Rare is the thriller that can have all these questions and many more running through my head since the answers are pretty obvious to anyone who has seen this type of film. Perhaps it was the particularly bloodthirsty nature of the villain Kang that made me wonder if things might actually be in doubt. Whatever the reason, “Olympus Has Fallen” is a very effective thriller. Unlike most other films of this type, it’s actually thrilling.
However, there are less effective aspects of the film. The cumbersome nature of the attack plan makes it quite unbelievable. Considering the manpower, materials, training, knowledge and secrecy required to pull it off, I highly doubt it would have come together in such a flawless fashion. There’s also the problem of the government’s constant monitoring of the nation’s land lines, cell phones, texts, emails and Internet usage. Surely somewhere along the way an analyst with the CIA or NSA would have intercepted a message or noticed the purchase of enormous amounts of weapons, ammo and other items. Then there’s the way the terrorists plans fall so perfectly into place and go off without a hitch. There are very few military operations that don’t have a glitch in them somewhere. Even the assault on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan had one of the two helicopters crashing when it arrived. Compared to what’s shown in the movie that was a much smaller operation. Banning also gets the benefit of nothing going against him when he’s skulking around the White House outnumbered 20 to 1. Then there’s the factor of the terrorist mastermind leading the attack. These guys are usually the idea men, not the foot soldiers. While not an expert on terrorism, I have never heard of the leader of a large paramilitary operation being front and center in an attack. They usually stay behind the scenes and send their true believers off to do the dirty work.
Another aspect of the film that didn’t work for me is the sudden conversion of a member of Kang’s crew to Banning’s side just before he dies. I don’t want to give away too much but it didn’t strike me as making much sense or fitting in with the fervent actions of this character earlier in the film. While it is necessary to advance the plot, it comes off as awkward and clumsy.
“Olympus Has Fallen” is rated R for strong language and violence throughout. The number of bodies shown being shot, stabbed and beaten is almost uncountable. There is enough blood to float a battleship. There is also a rather disturbing scene of a woman being viciously beaten. Foul language is common.
“Olympus Has Fallen” is able to mix the violence and tension with the occasional bit of humor as Banning struggles to survive and deliver the occasional pithy one-liner. With all the killing and suspense, it is a welcome bit of levity in an otherwise tense movie. While it won’t win any accolades for its originality, it does provide a bit of escape from our repetitive daily grind. You can’t ask much more from a movie than that.
“Olympus Has Fallen” gets five exploding guitars.
There are a wide variety of movies coming out this week. Vote for the next one I see and review.
GI Joe: Retaliation—The Joe’s are back but they must work against the President who is an imposter under the direction of COBRA.
The Host— When an unseen enemy threatens mankind by taking over their bodies and erasing their memories, a young woman will risk everything to protect the people she cares most about.
Spring Breakers—Four young women are best friends anxious to cut loose on their own spring break adventure, but they lack sufficient funds. After holding up a restaurant for quick cash, the girls head to the shore for what they discover is the party of a lifetime.
Stoker—When a young woman’s father is killed in an auto accident, she begins to wonder if a recently discovered uncle who now lives with her and her mother might be involved in the man’s death.
Tyler Perry’s Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor— Judith is an ambitious married woman whose obsessive passion for a handsome billionaire leads to betrayal, danger and a choice that will forever alter the course of her life.
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film of his choice currently in theatres.
Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.
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