Director Antoine (Training Day) Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen, the first in the ‘Die Hard in the White House’ doppelgänger series (to be followed by White House Down starring Channing Tatum later this year), is a shameless piece of American triumphalist propaganda.
When North Korean terrorists infiltrate the White House and hold the President (Aaron Eckhart) hostage, lone secret service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) becomes the President’s last hope for survival. There are brief highlights in Olympus has Fallen. Fuqua’s frenetic pacing and affinity for high order violence is used to maximum effect watching a crowd of tourists open their backpacks and camera carry cases to reveal an arsenal of weapons to storm the White House. Their ground support, in the form of two garbage trucks that have been retrofitted to blow out their own tyres and transform into armoured turrets, is also a tangible and terrifying revelation. The impossibility of the premise in these moments suddenly bursts into a potential reality and this reviewer felt a palpable tension come over the audience. Butler too does have some great moments as John McLa… sorry Mike, rattling off ‘one liners’ (the best being “Let’s play a game of fuck off…you go first”) and dispatching henchman with the most brutal knife work since Danny Trejo’s great assassin in Robert Rodriguez’s Desperado.
Olympus Has Fallen creates a nightmarish situation and then it’s all about to hilariously come undone. The special effects, especially the collapse of the Washington monument, are third rate and distracting. The Pentagon ‘war room’ scenes that conveniently have companion animations that pictorially explain the terrorist plans are nothing short of baffling. However, when Olympus Has Fallen truly swan dives into the farcical is when it starts – sincerely – using dialogue and characterisations that feel like they’re lifted from Team America: World Police. The irrefutable evidence comes when the Secretary of State (Melissa Leo) has just been beaten to a pulp by the terrorists and is being dragged through a hallway by the hair and instead of her shrieking with agony, Fuqua and writers Crieghton Rothenger and Katrin Benedikt have her say: “I pledddddggggeee alleegggggannnnnceee toooo daaaaaa flaggggggggeeeehhh of da Uniittted statesssss of MERICA.” The film quickly deteriorates into the most unsubtle piece of moronic American flag waving to grace cinema screens so far this year.
Olympus Has Fallen is the stupid, dark fantasy of backward white trash America that needs another domestic threat to trigger war. Hopefully in a few months we see Channing Tatum resurrect this premise ala Armageddon in the wake of Deep Impact.