North Korean terrorists attack the White House. They infiltrate the highest levels of the South Korean government and use that leverage to get many of their commandos into the United States by having them pose as body guards to the South Korean Prime Minister. The rest of a force of some one hundred soldiers utterly annihilate White House security and blast into the mansion with a combination of RPGs, assault rifles, machine guns, and plastic explosives. They’re so well-organized and well-trained that they manage to snag the President (Aaron Eckhart) and hold him hostage. However, one man stands between the dastardly terrorists and world domination, and he intends to shove an American flag up the ass of every scum-sucking freedom-hater and turn it sideways.
Is Olympus Has Fallen the stupidest flick of the year? Well, the year is still young, but it’s hard to imagine something even dumber coming along and toppling this flick. I’ve found it incredibly difficult to wrap my head around the fact that someone decided to write Die Hard set in the White House. The White House must be one of the most fortified locations in the world. It’s really only a suitable for a location in a television show or a movie if it’s the setting for a political drama like House of Cards or a complete action movie parody like Black Dynamite.
It’s impossible to merely look at the film and tell if first-time screenwriting duo Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt intended for their film to be serious or not. For starters, the premise is completely absurd, and Gerard Butler’s ass-kicking secret service agent with a penchant for one-liners is a wonderful ‘80s action movie cliché. If Olympus Has Fallen had been filmed in the ‘80s, it likely would have been a tongue-in-cheek, blood-and-guts actioner directed by Paul Verhoeven with Arnold Schwarzenegger as the hero and Michael Ironside as a Russian terrorist. That movie would have been great.
Unfortunately, director Antoine Fuqua fails to realize the utter ridiculousness of the screenplay, and he plays things completely straight. Other than Gerard Butler who suitably hams things up a bit as the wise-cracking hero, the remaining cast is filled with respectable talent including Melissa Leo, Angela Bassett, Aaron Eckhart, Robert Forster, and Morgan Freeman (playing the acting President of the United States, of course). They lend a completely unwarranted sense of gravitas and professionalism to the proceedings. Further, Olympus Has Fallen gives us a lot of teary-eyed, patriotic speeches about American resolve.
The film treats this terrorist attack as a tragedy rather than an adventure, and in turn, what could have been a really great parody of political thrillers ends up being an action flick that occasionally slips into so-bad-its-good territory. The fact that anyone expected us to take this movie seriously is utterly infuriating. And yet, that’s exactly what happened: Antoine Fuqua directed a mostly stone-faced movie about a superhero saving the President of the United States from North Korean terrorists.
And that brings me to the most cynical, chicken shit aspect of Olympus Has Fallen: the casting of North Korean terrorists as the film’s villain. Is North Korea a nice place? No, but that’s not the point. Does North Korea have the ability to take the President of the United States hostage in the White House? Hell no; they possess neither the resources nor the psychotic resolve necessary to carry out such a plan.
There are only two groups that would have either the power or the resolve to launch such an attack: the Chinese or well-financed Islamic terrorists. Well, Islamic terrorists are out, because ever since 9/11, Hollywood has been terrified of painting Muslims in a negative light, save in historical dramas like Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, or Munich. Studio executives are not about to expose themselves to death threats over a silly Gerard Butler vehicle. Meanwhile, the Chinese aren’t going to be depicted as villains as they are voracious consumers of American media. Anyone who makes a film depicting the Chinese as bad guys is cutting himself or herself off from a massive market. It’s the same reason the filmmakers behind last year’s Red Dawn hastily re-shot the film to replace the Chinese villains of the original cut with the North Koreans we eventually saw in the theatrical cut.
So, since the filmmakers couldn’t use Islamic terrorists or the Chinese as the villains for the flick, only three options were left: domestic terrorists, Russian terrorists, or the North Koreans. Picking North Koreas as the film’s antagonists makes the film vaguely prescient as North Korea is frequently in the news, and it also allows the film to adopt a vaguely racist, jingoistic tone that you just don’t get by having Americans play the villains. If North Korea complains, who gives a shit? They don’t purchase anything from the United States, and the country isn’t in the business of issuing death threats against Western artists the way Islamic radicals are.
Picking on North Korea is safe; it allows the filmmakers to be jingoistic without offending anyone. They get to have their cake and eat it too. In that way, Olympus Has Fallen is not only a very stupid movie, it is also a very cynical movie. As a result, the movie is neither engaging as a drama nor enjoyable as a dumb action flick. It’s merely stupid.