Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) finds himself kicked out of the presidential protection detail after rescuing the President (Aaron Eckhart) from a car accident, but failing to get the First Lady (a cameo by Ashley Judd). When a terrorist army seizes the White House, though, Banning runs to the firefight and finds himself in the middle of a global tug-of-war. Can Banning rescue the President’s son, free the President himself, and stop the terrorists before they turn America into a nuclear wasteland of famine and desperation?
Olympus Has Fallen had originally been on my list of films to see before my sudden assignment to Vatican City in March interrupted my mostly-regular cinema visits. Fortunately, the Blu-Ray/DVD was released about ten days ago. Thanks to a week’s prep for a routine but rather unpleasant medical test (which turned out entirely fine), I didn’t get to the cinema this week either, and figured I’d catch up with this film.
The trailer promised action, and Olympus Has Fallen robustly delivers on that promise. The action looks realistic, and the assault reasonably well planned enough to get over the massive suspension of disbelief it requires to have the audience buy the sacking of the White House. Butler gives a good performance as a Special Forces-turned-Secret Service agent, and Rick Yune offers another as the malevolent terrorist leader Kang. While certain aspects of the film are predictable, the execution is first-rate, and OHF keeps the audience riveted at all times.
The plot, however, has its problems. Unfortunately, to discuss that, it’s necessary to reveal critical plot points, so anyone interested in that critical analysis should read past my final rating. Otherwise, stop there. In this genre, plot holes really are secondary to action anyway, and the film is enjoyable enough that viewers will keep watching even while offering oh come ons with increasing frequency.
The film is well cast, but as with most action films, character development isn’t necessarily a priority. Radha Mitchell plays Banning’s wife, but like the President’s son (Finley Jacobsen), she’s more of a plot device than a part of the story. Michelle Leo makes the most of her role as Secretary of Defense, but Morgan Freeman seems a bit befuddled as the Speaker of the House who suddenly becomes acting President. Angela Bassett mainly exists to assure everyone just how awesome Banning is. Eckhart rises above the material as President, while Dylan McDermott plays against type as Forbes, Banning’s old colleague who has some interesting new friends. Viewers will have a difficult time figuring out who anyone else is, especially the Vice President (Phil Austin), who is so inconsequential that you’re not sure if you’ve ever heard from him. Other than Kang, there isn’t an interesting character at all among the terrorists.
We can nit-pick the characters and the plot all day long, but the key question is this: Is Olympus Has Fallen entertaining? The answer is a definite yes. Olympus Has Fallen is a good popcorn flick and a fun way to pass a couple of hours. It’s not Hamlet, and it doesn’t try to be, either, nor is it an application for Mensa or an entrance exam for the Secret Service. It’s just fun, and a chance to root for the good guys. Get ready to cheer — but just don’t think too much about it when you do.
We can’t use the usual rating system for films already out of the theaters, so let’s use this:
- 4 – Buy the Blu-Ray/DVD
- 3 – Worth a rental price or pay-per-view
- 2 – Wait for it to come on a TV channel you already get
- 1 – Avoid at all costs
On that scale, Olympus Has Fallen earns a 3. There’s no reason to add it to your library, but the fun you’ll have is worth the cost of the rental or PPV.
Olympus Has Fallen is rated R for lots of violence and some realistic bad language. It’s not for children or younger teens, as the violence is very realistic and gory at times.
If you’re interested in the plot issues, keep reading — otherwise, keep scrolling down to the comments.
Some spoilers below.
The plot of Olympus Has Fallen has enough holes to … well, to allow a terrorist army into the White House. There are several, but let’s hit three of the biggest.
First, the terrorists have coordinated air and ground fire, strategically placed armored or large vehicles, heavy weapons, and what looks like a hundred people on the ground (the movie later says 40), along with the infiltrated terrorists in a South Korean diplomatic detachment. That would take millions and millions of dollars, which might make sense if the villains came from the Middle East, but doesn’t if they’re from desperately impoverished North Korea — especially if, as the film implies, they don’t have any connection to the DPRK government. We wouldn’t catch wind of that kind of movement of assets? Next, the Speaker of the House as acting President (Morgan Freeman) is willing to give up South Korea to save the life of the President and secure a “Cerberus” system that would render our ICBMs useless, but that’s hardly realistic. We’re not going to trade South Korea and millions of deaths just to save a hostaged President.
Finally, the Cerberus system is supposed to be a super-secret nuclear fail-safe that allows the US to self-destruct an accidentally released nuclear ICBM, accessible only to the President and two other people. I’d guess that we have self-destructs on a much lower level than that, but that’s not the real gaffe here. Self-destructs by definition deal with blowing up rockets, not detonating the nuclear warheads, which would defeat the purpose of a self-destruct. Nuclear warheads have to be armed for a purposeful launch, but would be unarmed and safed while sitting in the silos. See here for a brief explanation of safing and arming. No one just leaves nukes armed, especially not the US, and nukes have to be detonated very precisely. An explosion underneath the device won’t do it. Setting off the Cerberus system with ICBMs in the ground wouldn’t arm the warheads — a self-destruct fail-safe would hardly include that command — so blowing them up in the silos wouldn’t create a nuclear wasteland. It would destroy the silos and kill a lot of people who work in and around them, and there could be some leakage of the nuclear material, but it wouldn’t produce the outcome the film seems to assume. Whoever wrote this doesn’t have a good grasp of how nuclear weapons and self-destructs work, and apparently didn’t bother to find out.