Olympus has Fallen

Sarah Ward

When North Korean terrorists attack the White House and take the President hostage, only one thinly drawn character stands in their way.
Olympus has Fallen

As an ever-present on-screen clock counts down the hours, minutes and seconds until impending disaster, and the global populace awaits the outcome of a violent standoff between American leaders and their terrorist adversaries, the fate of the world rests on the shoulders of a lone, disgraced agent. In addition to furnishing the storylines of eight seasons of television series 24, this premise fuels feature Olympus Has Fallen; the comparison falls firmly in the former’s favour.

Secret Service operative Mike Banning (Gerard Butler, Movie 43) was once a member of President Asher’s (Aaron Eckhart, The Rum Diary) personal protection unit, until a tragedy saw him redeployed. Eighteen months later, he yearns for active duty instead of working behind a desk in Treasury; a military strike on Washington by North Korean extremists, in which the White House is besieged and the President taken hostage, brings him back into play. Surrounded by chaos and carnage, the enterprising and tenacious Banning emerges as the only person who can avert further disaster.

Based on the content of countless films and TV programs, audiences can be forgiven for thinking that the President of the United States is forever in peril, and that American landmarks are constantly under threat. Yet the staple acts of aggression that underscore an array of action efforts (Independence Day, Air Force One and G.I. Joe Retaliation among them) serve a significant purpose: destroying symbols of US supremacy in order to justify ruthless, blood-splattered acts of revenge and retaliation, and a cathartic return to order and authority.

Director Antoine Fuqua (Brooklyn’s Finest) and first-time writers Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt follow this formula to the letter, complete with gratuitous slow-motion shots of a crumbling Washington Monument and a bullet-ridden American flag for further emphasis. Characterisation, plot development and logic are absent, replaced by an endless parade of cliché-ridden shoot outs, knife fights and explosions; nor do the film’s cast (wasted appearances by Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo and Angela Bassett as high ranking officials included) seem to matter. All this film is concerned about is the monotonous, politically-troubling ‘us versus them’ conflict at its centre.

While Fuqua has established his action credentials in Training Day and Shooter, the cinematic spectacle of excessive video game-influenced sequences can’t save the film. Relentless repetition ensures each confrontation is indistinguishable from the last, with predictability triumphing over tension or interest. Ineffective lead Butler is unable to elicit further intrigue from the poor screenplay, nor can the dialogue, which primarily consists of platitudes and profanity. A pale imitation of its predecessors, Olympus Has Fallen charts the ongoing downward trajectory of similar patriotic action efforts. Remember the thinly drawn remake of Red Dawn? This one's worse.

Rating: 1 ½ stars out of 5


Olympus Has Fallen

Director: Antoine Fuqua

USA, 2013, 120 min


Release date: April 18

Distributor: Roadshow

Rated MA

About the author

Sarah Ward is a freelance film critic, arts and culture writer, and film festival organiser. She is the Australia-based critic for Screen International, a film reviewer and writer for ArtsHub, the weekend editor and a senior writer for Concrete Playground, a writer for the Goethe-Institut Australien’s Kino in Oz, and a contributor to SBS, SBS Movies and Flicks Australia. Her work has been published by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Junkee, FilmInk, Birth.Movies.Death, Lumina, Senses of Cinema, Broadsheet, Televised Revolution, Metro Magazine, Screen Education and the World Film Locations book series. She is also the editor of Trespass Magazine, a film and TV critic for ABC radio Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast, and has worked with the Brisbane International Film Festival, Queensland Film Festival, Sydney Underground Film Festival and Melbourne International Film Festival. Follow her on Twitter: @swardplay