Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 29, 2013)
Back in the 90s, we got a plethora of Die Hard-style films. We had Die Hard on a bus, Die Hard on a boat, Die Hard on a plane - you name it.
We even found Die Hard with a US president! Though the Commander in Chief kicks less butt this time, 2013’s Olympus Has Fallen revisits the political venue – which we re-revisited with July 2013’s similarly themed White House Down.
Even before I saw it, I knew that Down had to be better than Olympus. It might not be the year’s biggest action disappointment – ironically, 2013’s official Die Hard movie seems to have a lock on that dishonor – but Olympus still stinks.
On a snowy evening, President Ben Asher (Aaron Eckhart) heads to a campaign event with wife Margaret (Ashley Judd) and son Connor (Finley Jacobsen) in tow. The slippery conditions lead to a road accident that leaves the First Lady dead. Even though lead Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) acted appropriately, the president associates him with Margaret’s demise and banishes Mike to a desk job.
A few months later, North Korean radicals led by terrorist Yeonsak Kang (Rick Yune) – and abetted by former Secret Service agent David Forbes (Dylan McDermot) – assault the White House and take the president captive. During the mayhem, Banning manages to gain entry into the White House and seeks to rescue the president in the midst of an international crisis.
What if they made a Michael Bay movie and didn’t invite Michael Bay? What if they made a Michael Bay movie so bad that Michael Bay would only be able to shake his head with disgust if he saw it?
If that happened, Olympus Has Fallen would be the result. If not for the use of various modern digital devices, I’d believe that they shot Olympus in the late 90s and left it on the shelf until now. The movie acts as a total throwback; with its strong Die Hard influence and copious use of Bay’s patented cinematic techniques, it feels like 1998 all over again.
While it remains unfashionable to admit this, I always liked “classic Bay”, as I thought flicks like The Rock and Armageddon achieved what they set out to do. Olympus, on the other hand, offers such a thin, idiotic affair that it becomes impossible to muffle laughs along the way.
From almost literally the first scene, the movie smothers us with its stupidity. While I don’t expect perfect realism from a flick like this, I’d like some feeling of verisimilitude, which Olympus completely lacks. It starts at Christmas time – and discusses the rough campaign trail. Granted, politics never sleep, but it still seems incongruous that the president would be in serious vote-mongering mode at that time of the year – heck, even if we’re supposed to believe that the primaries will occur soon, it’s unlikely the president would be so entrenched in campaign mode so early in the process.
That might be nit picking, but the odd characterizations become more jarring. Olympus comes with a genuinely awesome cast; in addition to those already mentioned, we find talents such as Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, and Melissa Leo.
So how come not a single one can create a believable personality? I don’t think any of them even try; they go through the action flick motions and never attempt anything more than stock melodrama.
Not that I can blame them, as the utterly braindead screenplay leaves the actors little room to succeed. The first produced script from writers Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt, I hope the pair can do something more creative and intelligent next time.
Heck, I’d settle for a screenplay that wasn’t actively, insultingly idiotic. Yeef, barely a minute passes in Olympus without a serious “WTF” moment. Each and every scenario seems absurd and unbelievable, and to maintain these situations, each and every character must act like the dumbest person who ever lived.
Granted, I understand that the simple notion of a White House taken over by terrorists sounds like a stretch. In the years since 9/11, we’ve expanded our ideas of what’s believable in that realm, but I still think it’d be next to impossible for a situation ala this one to occur – especially given how easily the terrorists execute their plan. The Three Stooges would’ve put up a better fight than the soldiers depicted in the film.
And it gets worse from there. Olympus offers one preposterous scenario after another and asks us to believe them. I can take the “one man against an army” concept inherent to the Die Hard series and its imitators; while those get farfetched, I can swallow them.
But I can’t accept major leaders who act in ways that make no sense whatsoever. Say what you want about the current political quagmire – I still don’t think we’d ever see people make as many idiotic choices as we need to accept in Olympus. These people aren’t smart enough to brush their own teeth, much less gain substantial political office.
It doesn’t help that Olympus actively steals from its source. If you take a drink every time you see a scene clearly ripped off from Die Hard, you’ll be blotto by the end of Olympus. While prior Die Hard-influenced films have made their roots clear, I can’t think of any that copped material so blatantly; it’s like Rothenberger and Benedikt just dusted off an old Die Hard script and changed the names.
I hate to be the smug guy who snickers at dramatic movies, but I couldn’t help myself during Olympus. It comes with so many unintentionally comedic moments that it almost plays like parody. I don’t think it’s supposed to offer a spoof, but it sure seems like one. The moments that attempt to be funny flop – as they all feel like cliché action movie one-liners – and the serious bits turn hilarious. How can I not laugh at the sight of Melissa Leo as she shouts the Pledge of Allegiance on the way to her potential demise?
I don’t know how movies this bad get made. Did those involved think they were doing something creative or exciting during the shoot? Didn’t anyone realize the utter depths of idiocy to which their film fell?
I can’t answer those questions, but this I know: Olympus is a thoroughly terrible action film. It offers next to no redeeming value as it subjects us to one of the most absurd and idiotic tales displayed on the big screen.