“Olympus Has Fallen”
In the age of worrying about terrorist attacks, one primal national
nightmare is that the White House itself would be a target, and that they
would succeed, despite our best efforts.
“Olympus Has Fallen” is the code that a dying Secret Service agent
manages to mutter through his microphone, meaning that the worst has, in
fact, happened. The film is actually divided into two parts: the
cleverly-devised and perfectly executed assault on the White House, and then
the tense negotiations afterwards. The fact that the perpetrators are Korean
just means that they’re the enemy du jour.
Gerard Butler plays Mike Banning, a former Secret Service agent who left the
Presidential guard detail in disgrace, after losing the First Lady on an icy
bridge near Camp David. He’s been stuck in a desk job in the Treasury
Department, which he hates, but he understands the realities of failure. You
don’t get a second chance in that profession. Until now.
When the attackers come, first by outfitting an old propeller plane with
machine guns, then by would-be tourists throwing off their disguises and
charging the North Lawn, Mike Banning, like everyone else, is still trying
to process what he is seeing out the window. But his instincts prompt him to
run toward the battle, not away from it, as the screaming crowds are doing.
Somehow he manages to be the only American left standing among the rubble
and debris, and here’s where his familiarity with the layout of the White
House itself helps preserve him. Meanwhile, the attackers have overwhelmed
the President’s personal guard detail, and sequestered him down in the
bunker, and since the Vice President was killed in the attack, then the
acting President is…the Speaker of the House?
Enter a somber and subdued Morgan Freeman, as Speaker Trumbull. He has to
decide whether to give in to the terrorist’s demands to stand down in the
counter-attack, or else they will kill the captured President (he
reluctantly accedes). Then he has to decide about meeting their demands for
American forces to immediately withdraw from the DMZ separating North and
South Korea (guaranteeing a chaotic civil war), and also withdrawing the
Seventh Fleet (assuring our continued non-response). Oh, and an escape
helicopter, of course.
Meanwhile, the rogue agent Mike Banning is the only hope they have for
someone to create havoc on the inside. Yes, he’s former Special Forces,
and not only highly skilled, but highly motivated. Of course, if we, the
viewers, have already willingly suspended disbelief this far, then it’s a
short additional admission to watch Mike Banning play superhero, with an
aura of personal invincibility reminiscent of Rambo. Or the “Die Hard”
series. Or any of those indestructible action hero formats. No macho joking
around here, though. This is serious business throughout.
“Olympus Has Fallen” takes full advantage of the CGI opportunity of
destroying half the White House. It also features some personal torture
scenes, and stark assassination renditions, including some violence against
women, which many will find difficult to watch. But it’s a flag-waving
Yankee Doodle Dandy of a patriotic fightfest.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving,