Blockbuster season is upon us, and why not rehash previous glories with just a few adjustments in the High Concept tradition? Both kitsch and mindless, Olympus Has Fallen is an exercise in overbearing CGI-laden effects, recursive sound effects, and with cliché dialogue that moves the plot forward and American film production backwards.
Although performing amicably during a tragic accident involving the President and his family, Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is demoted to Treasury duty. When North Korean terrorists capture the White House with a brute force invasion, President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) and many high-level administrators are taken hostage. Banning quietly, but violently infiltrates the highly damaged Presidential residence becoming the eyes and ears for a military that is several steps behind.
Olympus Has Fallen coincidentally lands in theaters as North Korea continues to issue threats to the United States and its allies. The film carefully places North Korean terrorists as the sole antagonists, side-stepping any indication that the communist country is a deliberate foe as Hollywood is well aware it should not be the first to declare war. The motivations behind this particular attack from both the terrorists as well as one particular colluding traitor are inherently weak and laughable.
One scene has the traitor in question claim that globalization and Wall Street bailouts were enough of a reason to commit treason. That is the highfalutin motif that should be explored, but it is glossed over quickly because this is a terrorist attack and not Crossfire. While sentiments about American’s hand in the affairs many other countries and the mishandling of the Wall Street bailout have irritated all political sides, this misleading line of dialogue fails to recognize that these are issues that have their inklings in a post-WWII era, not just in contemporary events.
The North Korean anxieties and the misleading dialogue are as close as Olympus Has Fallen gets to anything worthy of intellectual discussion. North Korea might be the last country in which Hollywood can present an antagonist without angering any other nationality, as films such as Argo are based on historical events with a debatable share of liberties, although Iran is launching an international lawsuit.
Most of the film feels as if it is a video game without user involvement. CGI graphics depict the White House ruins and surrounding environments as if it was shoddily rendered on your favorite video game console. Even the news scrolls on pundit-driven television feeds are clunky and even include misspellings. Overall, the premise feels as if it was lifted out of any action-packed 1980s film where patriotic musclemen don speedos of freedom. Thankfully, we do not see any American heroes in anything but military fatigues, but Olympus Has Fallen is indebted to the films that depict America as nothing but an invincible force no matter the circumstances, and where our fallen heroes will always rise again.
Veteran action director Antoine Fuqua has a solid career of films just like Olympus Has Fallen including Tears of the Sun and Training Day. We can easily point out the typical High Concept mash-up in the film: Air Force One and Die Hard at the White House. Lest we forget that High Concept begets low brow? While the film harkens back to the atrocious stateside terrorist attacks nearly twelve years ago, this film depicts antagonists with clear intentions to eliminate America entirely by hitting the heart of the country first.
Current events and preposterous CGI aside, Olympus Has Fallen is an action thriller that is effective in presenting the common tropes of quick but cliché comedic exchanges to lighten the stress, heavy gunfire, high body counts, and low-frequency oscillations that rumble the seats to give physicality to the theater that the story just does not provide.