Nonstop Movies: ‘Olympus Has Fallen’

“Olympus Has Fallen” wants to be a throwback to the testosterone-filled violent action films of the ’90s. It shares many elements of those films, such as the muscle-bound hero looking for redemption, the bloody shootouts, the bureaucrats sitting in the war room talking instead of doing, and even the wrong place-wrong time story set up. But you can’t make an entertaining film by just mashing up elements from better films.

The opening sequence is supposed to establish the story of Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) and his need for redemption. The President (Aaron Eckhart) and the First Lady (Ashley Judd) are traveling in their limo on a cold winter night and an accident leads to the First Lady’s death, because Banning only has time to save the President. As a result, Banning is excused from the President’s watch because seeing his face reminds the President of that tragic accident. So what is Banning looking for redemption from, exactly? Everyone, even the President, has acknowledged that he did nothing wrong that night, and that the First Lady’s death was just a horrible accident. So from the very beginning of the film, the audience already has lost reason to care about the central hero.

But wait, it gets worse. Once the North Koreans successfully attack and take over the White House, it’s revealed that their plan to get three secret codes to be able to control guided missiles relies on kidnapping the President’s son and using him as leverage to get the one code only the President knows. But when the son is rescued very early on in the film by Banning, that plan is dropped and never mentioned again. Yet somehow, someone else knows the code that only the President was supposed to know, meaning the original plan to use the son was never really that crucial in the first place.

Then there’s the character who turns out to be a traitor. This is not a spoiler by the way, as he is revealed very early in the film. There is absolutely no motivation established for him to turn sides. It’s just a matter of convenience for the plot. And don’t forget Banning’s wife. Oh wait, since the film makes absolutely no attempt to give her any sort of significance to the story I already have.

And if the heavy-handed jingoism throughout the film isn’t obvious enough, the film makes sure to hammer home the message of “Go USA” by bookending the film with the American flag in both the opening and closing credits.

“Olympus Has Fallen” is a product of lazy filmmaking, and that’s a shame because there are some really well executed action scenes. I am a fan of old-school action movies, and I loved seeing the amount of blood shed in this film, even though all the red splatter is now CGI instead of squibs and makeup. But this movie just doesn’t have the heart to make the cool stuff in it work. It takes itself way too seriously for it to be effective and is a serious waste of the big-name talent involved.

Director Antoine Fuqua has made some entertaining films in the past, including “The Replacement Killers, “ “Training Day” and “Shooter,” but his most recent work indicates he has replaced creativity with banality. Oscar winners Melissa Leo and Morgan Freeman as well as Butler, Eckhart and Angela Bassett all do the best with the crappy material they have to work with, but ultimately this film should have never been allowed to shoot without a reworked script. I certainly don’t want to see a film that borrows liberally from “Die Hard,” “Air Force One” and “In the Line of Fire” if it doesn’t have the heart of any of those films.

“Olympus Has Fallen,” 120 minutes, is Rated R and opens in theaters today.