The White House and its President are seized by North Korean terrorists in this improbable but exciting action thriller from the director of Training Day.
The film’s stereotyped North Koreans put on an elaborate display. First their giant gunship distracts and obliterates surrounding guards, while a bunch of tourists rip off their disguises to reveal a tooled up terrorist army. As the gunship slices in to the Washington Monument, causing it to disintegrate 9/11 style, and a suicide bomber explodes to smash a hole in the White House gates, Olympus Has Fallen rapidly crosses off entries on the terrorist repertoire checklist.
From here on, Olympus Has Fallen adheres to a familiar action premise as a lone gunman fights his way through an army of assassins. Disgraced Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) relishes the task, bringing determined ferocity and an unflinching knowledge of the White House to his mission to rescue the President (Aaron Eckhart) - now held hostage by terrorist leader, Kang (Rick Yune), in the White House bunker.
Director Antoine Fuqua is unwavering in his commitment to fast paced action and pyrotechnics and his ‘what if’ scenario is bursting with intensity and surprises.
Yet Olympus Has Fallen finds it hard to top its enormous invasion spectacle and, once inside the White House, Gerard Butler’s action hero finds himself in more predictable territory. Butler’s quiet stalking of the halls is reminiscent of last year’s standout action movie The Raid, but lacks the martial arts panache of its elaborately choreographed foreign language rival.
Instead, Olympus Has Fallen relies on more familiar maneuvers, a smattering of interrogation and plenty of shooting. As a dramatic score provides the backdrop to a body flailing from multiple gunshots, Olympus Has Fallen is unable to steer entirely clear of cheesy action set-pieces.
Fuqua’s latest action film is far from subtle. The screenplay from Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt piles on the symbolism at every opportunity. An American flag falls to the ground ripped with bullet holes, a fiery sunset emerges as the White House is invaded and a lone assassin is knocked out with a bust of Lincoln. With this much patriotism on show, Olympus Has Fallen becomes plagued with the feeling that there’s only one way this can all turn out.
With their emphasis on action and an intense plot that winds its way towards a nuclear weapons threat, writers Rothenberger and Benedikt put all their eggs in one basket. Flimsy characters with feeble motives pervade the movie, missing a crucial opportunity to layer up the charm. As the Acting President getting to grips with the state of emergency, Speaker Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) is the movie’s most fascinating character, yet we glean little of him as he pulls together a shambolic response. When Olympus Has Fallen does attempt a backstory for our leading hero, Agent Banning, a prologue eighteen months previously is unimaginative and melodramatic.
Rapid and elaborate action sequences galore, Fuqua’s latest action thriller delivers instantaneous thrills. Rational questions - like how did that gunship ever make it so far? - are easily forgotten in the moment but, on reflection, the improbable events of Olympus Has Fallen undermine long-lasting satisfaction.
Running Time: 120 minutes.