A combat plane swoops across the National Mall, clips the side of the Washington Monument and lands in front of the White House. It’s a national nightmare that’s all-too rattling in a post-9/11 world.
“Olympus Has Fallen,” an all-American action flick, centers around a North Korean takeover of the nation’s capital. It packs a horribly gruesome and pretty predictable plot with an overwhelming call to patriotism, which makes the whole movie work.
Mike Banning (played by Gerard Butler), is ex-Secret Service and a disgraced member of President Benjamin Asher’s (Aaron Eckhart) security detail.
In the start of the film, he’s at Camp David with the president and the first family. He boxes with Asher, throwing right hooks and inside jabs. He falls right into the heart of the family — he’s more than just security, he’s woven into the family fabric. He offers earring advice to Asher’s wife, Margaret (Ashley Judd), and the president’s son, Connor (Finley Jacobsen), begs to ride in the car with Banning instead of mom and dad.
The heart of the film, away from the action, is cemented early on. The presidential family is on their way to a diamond-decorated Christmas party during a blizzard. The president and his wife are in one town car, while Connor is in a separate car with Banning.
The wheels spin out on an ice-covered bridge and the president’s car hangs over the rail, looking down at an ice-covered river.
It’s a hurried scene, but in short, Banning gets the president out of the car before it plummets to the water with the first lady still strapped in the back seat. Asher is left sitting on the icy street, head in hands, with Connor wailing in the background.
The movie is then set 18 months later, post-accident. Banning is working a desk job at the Department of Treasury — he’s been taken off the president’s detail, and left a kind-of renegade mockery in the security circle.
Butler is perfect for the role, rugged with biting sarcasm that commands the right attention. He’s the guy you feel bad for, without any of the traditional, emotion-inspiring characteristics. You know he cares, and cares a lot, and that’s all you need.
It’s his time in “300” meets “P.S. I Love You,” if that could ever even happen.
The action comes with a North Korean invasion, so far-fetched with the country’s previous battle star track record that there’s some comfort in the unrealistic, gruesome overtake of the White House.
In just 13 minutes, the president’s security team is wiped out and Asher, the secretary of defense (Melissa Leo) and the vice president (Phil Austin) are being held hostage in the president’s bunker.
Eckhart doesn’t add much but a strong jawline to the film, with his character’s only real addition to the story standing in his celebrity. Leo, however, is beyond excellent in a relatively minor roll. She’s tortured, lying face-down on the bunker floor, spitting up blood as she fights with a sassy brand of patriotism.
As the cameras pan over a silverscreen Washington, D.C. the landscape is all kinds of inaccurate. The buildings are magically squished together, creating a triangle of key city buildings in a 500-foot space.
The story pans out expectantly — a movie chronicling the innerworkings of the country’s national security can’t get more disappointing than a 13-minute slaughter of the White House staff.
But, the thrill of the action and the kind of inspired American pride leaves viewers with plenty of feel-good patriotism.