Olympus Has Fallen ✮✮✮1/2
by Glenn Lovell
The unthinkable has happened. Sixteen-hundred Pennsylvania Avenue ‒ and all of D.C., for that matter ‒ is under attack from North Korean terrorists who have somehow breached U.S. air space. And the outlook isn’t good: The President and his chief security advisers, including the Secretary of State, are being held hostage in the bunker beneath the White House.
Old Glory, in tatters, has been torn down and tossed (in withering slow mo) to the White House lawn.
Yes, it’s a dark day for democracy.
Not to worry. Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is on the job. Banning, who has the requisite Special Forces training, knows the presidential residence like the back of his hand and is slowly, inexorably, working his way down to President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) and his sick-puppy captor, Kang (Rick Yune of “Die Another Day”).
President Pro Tem, Speaker of the House Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) is now calling the shots from the Crisis Room in the Pentagon. It’s up to Trumbull to either submit to the terrorists’ demands ‒ recall the 6th Fleet from the Sea of Japan and roll back American troops amassed along the Korean DMZ ‒ or (yes, please!) unleash mad dog Banning.
From the above description, you’re probably thinking “Olympus Has Fallen” sounds like the latest installment in the “Die Hard” or Jack Ryan franchise, and Banning is but one more in the long line of square-jawed one-man-armies who deliver quips with their payback, like “Yippee-kai-yay, motherfucker!” and “Get off my plane!”
Vanquish all such thoughts. There’s nothing the least bit camp or cartoonish about this new actioner. Thanks to director Antoine Fuqua, best known for “Training Day,” “Olympus” unfolds as an expert blend of cold-sweat espionage and 1970s disaster epic, only with CG effects. And for a change the spine-cracking fights really smart and the mounting, bullet-riddled bodies make us cry out in pain. This is visceral movie-making of a very high caliber, as good in its way as John Frankenheimer’s “Black Sunday” and Doug Liman’s “The Bourne Identity.”
Of course all of this would mean diddly-squat if it weren’t accompanied by a topnotch ensemble. Besides Butler’s ramrod efficient tough-guy and Eckhart’s seething, defiant prez, we have Ashley Judd (briefly) as the first lady, Finley Jacobsen as the president’s able son, the typically hard-ass Robert Forster as the Army Chief of Staff, Angela Bassett as the director of the Secret Service, Dylan McDermott as the disillusioned turncoat, and, most memorable, Melissa Leo as the bloodied-but-not-bowed secretary of state who recites the Pledge of Allegiance as she’s being dragged to her fate.
Besides being one of the best full-scale action flicks in years, “Olympus Has Fallen” could not be any more timely. Who would have guessed that as things heat up in our standoff with Pyongyang, Hollywood would step up with such an outrageous piece of anti-North Korean propaganda? A word to the State Department: Hey, guys, relax your sanctions just enough to make sure a copy of this film makes its way to Kim Jong-un’s palace screening room.
OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN ✮✮✮1/2 With Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Dylan McDermott, Melissa Leo, Angela Bassett, Morgan Freeman. Directed by Antoine Fuqua; scripted by Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt. 120 min. Rated R (for graphic combat, hand-to-hand violence)