*** (of four)
Review by Jerry Roberts.
They say that in show business timing is everything. That said, it might be reasonable to question whether or not a movie about an attack on the White House by a North Korean terrorist sect is a good idea given the world situation. With the North Koreans currently rattling their sabers, and prepping for war, you’d be right to assume that now may not have been the best time for a populist entertainment movie about the North Koreans launching an aggressive attack on American soil. Tugging your collar at this prospect is not unreasonable.
We might be willing to indulge such a question if the new thriller “Olympus Has Fallen” weren’t so darned entertaining. This is one of those All-American action pictures where our country is attacked, the bad guys have us on the ropes, we fight back and ultimately we get to watch Old Glory go back up that flagpole. We leave the theater shouting “America! Oh yeah!” while high-fiving each other (this actually happened). Now if we could just feel that way about our economy, we’d be in business.
The movie earns that kind of response. The movie sets itself up so that we can love our country. “Olympus Has Fallen” offers a nightmare scenario in which the North Koreans stage a massive attack, not just in the United States, but right there at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, taking the top people hostage – including the President – and demanding our most crucial military secrets. That attack is played out in scary detail from the first incoming plane to the moment that the terrorists set foot in our nation’s most heavily defended hallways. They move with deadly efficiency, taking out the secret service and the military until they have the place under their control. Yes, they do take down our tattered, bullet-ridden flag, but they stop short of replacing it with their own – Cobra already did that shtick in “G.I. Joe” (they had a better flag).
Helpless, but resolute, is President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) one of those devastatingly handsome Movie Presidents who is young, idealistic, a family man, and an all around good egg. The terrorists want our nuke codes but he won’t give them up. The leader of the sect, an efficient, stone-faced killer named Kang (Rick Yune), issues an ultimatum to the President’s cabinet that he will kill each advisor until he gets what he wants. He’s pretty convincing. We’ve seen what he and his men can do.
The North Korean terrorists prove that they have the right stuff. They are well-trained, heavily armed and as tough as nails. We get a glimmer of hope when we realize that the acting President is going to be The Secretary of State played by Morgan Freeman – always a good sign. Another is lone wolf former secret service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) who is trapped inside the locked-down White House – Die Hard style – and is picking off terrorists one by one. He’s one of those One Man Army types who can take out a room full of machine gun toting terrorist armed with a coaster and a plastic butter knife. He’s in communication with the joint chiefs while roaming the hallways, trying to get to the President.
All of this is played with a good amount of skill. The movie is directed by Antoine Fuqua, an action director best known for “Training Day”, the movie that got Denzel Washington a Best Actor Oscar. He’s completely in control of his action scenes here. He presents the villains, not as clownish halfwits, but as ruthless and highly skilled killers. There is a lot of well-established tension and mood in the air because we know what they are capable of and we know what is at stake. The plot and some of motivations are ridiculous, but we don’t mind because it is all done so well. We care about what is happening. This is the movie that “A Good Day to Die Hard” could have and should have been. In fact, if you replaced Banning with John McClane, this could have been the fifth Die Hard movie.
That’s not to say that it is a perfect movie, quite the opposite. While “Olympus Has Fallen” is loaded with great skill it is also hokey and a bit full of itself. You can’t take it too seriously; yet, you can’t help but love it because of all the Americanism coming off the screen. The movie makes you feel so proud to be an American that if you give someone a high-five on the way out, it is likely that no one is going to blame you.