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Olympus Has Fallen

March 22, 2013
Olympus Has Fallen

I must admit that there’s something mildly surreal about watching a massive paramilitary assault on the White House while sitting in a theater eight blocks away from the real thing. The sequence is vividly rendered — I’m certain almost nothing we see was actually filmed — and even moving in its way. It’s also far and away the best part of Olympus Has Fallen. Antoine Fuqua does a great job with the initial assault, but once the oh-so-symbolic American flag is tossed off the roof the whole movie is dragged down by a script that sets its dialogue against its action in an attempt to see which can be more ridiculous and overdone.

The assault is carried out by the North Koreans — yes, again standing in for the Chinese — headed by a terrorist named Kang (Rick Yune), posing as an aide to the visiting South Korean prime minister, and assisted by a former Secret Service agent (Dylan McDermott). When the attack starts, the President (Aaron Eckhart) goes into his underground bunker and breaches the normal protocol by bringing the South Korean entourage with him, which of course is the fatal mistake, and the one that Kang was evidently basing his entire grand plan around. Also in the bunker are the Secretary of Defense (Melissa Leo), the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (James Ingersoll), and even the Vice President (Phil Austin).

And with the President and Vice President both sidelined, the acting presidency falls to the Speaker of the House (Morgan Freeman), which transfer of power is for some reason executed by the Director of the Secret Service (Angela Bassett). They hole up in the Pentagon with the Army Chief of Staff (Robert Forster) to figure out what to do.

Luckily, they’ve got one more asset: the former head of the President’s security detail, Mike Banning (Gerard Butler). He was removed from his position after an accident claimed the life of the first lady (Ashley Judd), and he committed the unpardonable sin of saving the President’s life. So he’s been reassigned to the Treasury, which is right next door to the White House when the attack goes down. And so everything is in place for a Die Hard-style fly-in-the-ointment action flick, but with none of the humor. Since it’s in the White House, which is serious business.

And that’s the big failure here: the script takes itself so incredibly seriously, and it’s so incredibly stupid. The obvious flaw, about Kang’s plan hinging on a breach of protocol he couldn’t have reasonably expected, can be forgiven on the grounds that if it hadn’t gone down we wouldn’t have a movie. But so much crap is thrown at us in the name of heightening tension that when it collapses in on itself it makes the whole story feel that much dumber.

Chief in my mind is the access code to a top-secret abort code which would effectively nullify our nuclear arsenal. There are many problems here, including a twist that’s meant to be a climactic surprise, but is so obvious so much earlier that everyone looks stupid for not seeing it. But the worst is this: having introduced the giant danger that the system presents, and establishing that the three secret parts of the code are known by three people in the bunker, we need to make sure that the danger cannot be stopped remotely, which would remove the tension before it starts. Well, the movie does ask why they can’t just change the codes, which it then answers by saying that the codes can only be changed on the system console itself. Which they can’t get to because it’s in the bunker. Where the terrorists are.

So why don’t the terrorists just change the codes themselves to whatever they want?

It’s at this point that I seriously question whether Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt can even turn their computers on. Did they write the screenplay on typewriters, or just scrawl it out longhand? I know that I’m on the more computer-literate and end of the spectrum, but I don’t think it’s too much to ask to have at least one person in the room with a teeny bit of a security mindset if you’re writing a story that hinges on operational security concerns.

But the assault set piece. That was pretty cool. Just leave the theater once the flag drops.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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