I know there were two “OMG, the terrorists have the White House” films this year, and I will freely admit one looked stupid and the other looked… well, maybe a little less stupid. That second one is Olympus Has Fallen and it’s got some street cred to go along with the silly premise so I figured it was worth a shot. Antoine Fuqua, who did Training Day, was behind the camera and Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart and Morgan Freeman were out in front so at least it would be fun watching them chew up the scenery if nothing else.
And honestly, there was nothing else.
The plot revolves around a terrorist who takes over the White House (“Olympus” in secrets service speak) under the pretense of working for the North Korean government. At one point he makes the statement that it takes the military 15 minutes to get to the White House while his team did it in 13. Which is true. It’s also true that he had a well-organized team of ruthless killers at his beck and call, including an American traitor (we’ll get back to him in a second) and their precision and operational intelligence was spot on. Except for one thing. His plan was contingent on the security team breaking protocol every which way they could. Unlike Die Hard, which remains one of the best action films of all time. In Die Hard, the villain creates a scenario whereby he defeats his opponents by using their strengths against them – It’s “Zen and the Art of Bank Robbery” if you will. As long as the police and FBI follow their protocols, Hans Gruber will win without question. The problem comes in the form of John McLane, who is the proverbial fly in the ointment. He is is loner who doesn’t play by the rules and by being so, he disrupts Gruber’s plans and ultimately brings about his defeat.
In Olympus, which is trying desperately to be a Die Hard style film, things only work because the good guys don’t play by the rules. The first incident, a C-130 disguised as a USAF transport which attacks DC en route to take out the White House, causes the president (Eckhart) to be hurriedly ushered to the bunker. Of course, this happens at the exact time he’s meeting with the South Korean delegation and so, being the good guy he is, he completely breaks protocol by insisting these foreigners, with whom we are trying to avoid a major conflict, into the highest security zone in the country during an incident in which nothing is known. And the fact they were let into the Oval Office at all without walking through a metal detector also betrays any type of national security knowledge (Okay, I’ll admit, I don’t actually know if we make foreign officials and their entourage go through a weapons check, but if we don’t, we’re really stupid and I’m surprised our national leaders have lasted this long). So that’s one convenient coincidence.
The second one comes with the three codes the terrorist needs to pull off his dastardly plan. They are obviously classified and in the heads of the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the President himself. The bad guy decides to torture the various participants to get the codes. This is fine a common go to for politically motivated action thrillers. And here I’m assuming the bad guy has a contingency to get them since presumably they won’t talk willingly. Except they do. The President actually gives them the go ahead to give up the codes with the self-serving pronouncement, “give it to them, they’ll never get mine!” Of course, if any one of these codes fails to be put in to the system, the system doesn’t work so really, the Head of State is kinda giving up before he really needs to.
And now we come to the Traitor. Here’s a former secret service operative, now working for the private sector, who sees the current administration as being responsible for the complete downfall of the American Way of Life and views the president as a traitor (a fact he makes blatantly clear when he responds to the president’s calling him a traitor by saying “so what if I am, you did it first”). And when that traitor is sent out to get rid of Mike Banning (the lone secret serviceman still alive in the White House, and the President’s good friend, AND a man with something to prove) he betrays himself almost immediately, and is thoroughly beaten by Banning in a fist-fight. Then, in a last act of unbelievable character salvation, he decides to help Banning so Banning will kill him quickly instead of letting him linger and suffer and possibly face criminal charges. What?
None of this makes any sense at all. The screenwriters have no other official credits to their names and the hackneyed job they did here of mashing together as many cliches as they could shows they probably won’t have many more. But on the plus side, at least the terrorists weren’t Arab Muslims. That was nice.
Oh yeah, and I didn’t even get to Morgan Freeman, as the Speaker of the House, who could have phoned this one in (or at least recorded a voice over and had the rest of the cast merely move around a cardboard cut out) for all the acting he actually did. In the end, this isn’t worth the body count (which is excessive and brutal, even for this kind of film).