The White House has been called the “most protected building on earth.” But even the most secure bastion can theoretically be compromised, if not by brute force, then perhaps by wily subterfuge. Just ask the populace of Troy about a certain infamous horse. Or, for that matter, the devilishly deceptive North Korean terrorists whom the President of the United States unwittingly invites right into his most secure stronghold in Olympus Has Fallen.
Once that happens, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men—not to mention all his helicopters, jets and four-star generals—are powerless to help him put “Olympus” back together again. The only man with even a slim chance to save the president and stave off nuclear holocaust is a disgraced former Secret Service agent.
It’s July 5. A day that begins like any other for Mike Banning, who, for the last year and a half, has been shuffling off to his soul-sapping desk job at the U.S. Treasury Department. The job’s a punishment more than a career. He’s been doing it ever since failing to pull the first lady from an SUV slipping over an icy precipice. The former Special Forces veteran longs to erase his shame and return to his real passion: protecting President Benjamin Asher and the first son, Connor. But for now, it’s an unmet longing … one that leaves Banning restless and irritable while it erodes his marriage to Leah, an ER nurse.
But July 5, it turns out, will not be a day that ends like any other. The president is set to receive a South Korean delegation, including the country’s prime minister, to talk about North Korea’s increasingly threatening political posture. No sooner has that discussion begun, however, than a heavily armed military transport plane slips through the nation’s security net and bears down on the White House—a threat prompting the Secret Service to usher the president into his über-secure command bunker.
The president insists upon taking the South Koreans with him.
It seems the attack is contained when the rogue aircraft is downed on the National Mall. But that’s just the cue for more terrorists—including the supposed South Korean security team surrounding the prime minister—to hit the White House itself in a second wave from the outside … and from inside the president’s hermetically sealed sanctum.
North Korean terrorist Kang soon begins issuing demands. First, that the Americans remove their forces from the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. Second, that they move the 7th Fleet out of the area. Third, that they surrender three codes to the Cerberus system, a fail-safe program designed to disable the country’s nuclear arsenal in the event of an accidental launch.
Kang and Co. clearly have plans for those codes—and for America.
The acting president, Speaker of the House Allan Trumbull, is pondering his options and on the verge of acceding to Kang’s terms when he learns that hope is not yet lost. The shocking message that Olympus has fallen is accompanied by news that Mike Banning has managed to infiltrate the smoking war zone the White House has become.
His first job: rescuing young Connor.
His second job: rescuing the chap’s dad, the POTUS.
His third job: rescuing America before Kang can push the country’s self-destruct button.
Olympus Has Fallen majors in heroism and courage. Exhibiting ample amounts of both in his pursuit of Kang is Banning, who refuses to give up until he’s accomplished all three of his life-and-death objectives. Also especially courageous is Secretary of Defense Ruth McMillan. Despite being tied up, punched, kicked and beaten by Kang, she remains defiantly unwilling to submit to his brutal intimidation. Kang’s trying to get her Cerberus code, along with the one assigned to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Both officials are willing to resist to the death.
The film shows how grief and shame debilitate Banning and the president after Banning fails to save the first lady. Banning is depressed and despondent, longing for a shot at redemption. The president and his tween son are still grieving too. We see Asher trying to set aside his presidential mantle so he can just be the dad Conner needs. Likewise, Banning has a special bond with the boy, and seeks to find and rescue him with the same fierce determination a father might exhibit.
Kang gloats, “I read your Bible, Mr. President. It says, ‘The wages of sin is death.'” The president asks an American traitor who’s helped the North Koreans, “What’s the going rate for souls these days?” In an address to the America people, President Asher says, “May God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.” He also mentions praying for those who’ve been lost. Trumbull says of Kang at one point, “He’s just opened the gates of hell.”
The code name for the White House is Olympus, a reference to the abode of the Greek gods.
The president and his wife kiss. She wears a cleavage-baring dress. While being dragged by terrorists, Secretary McMillan’s blouse is inadvertently torn off, and we see her in a camisole.
Once the North Korean assault begins, it’s pretty much nonstop carnage. A transport plane unleashes its wrath first on two jet fighters, then (via massive machine guns) on the inhabitants of D.C. The plane eventually collides with the Washington Monument, and falling bricks bury fleeing tourists. Six Black Hawk helicopters are destroyed as casualties mount. One copter crashes into the White House explosively and nearly kills Banning.
At the White House, North Koreans unleash a massive assault on the presidential residence. Machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, hand grenades and tear gas overwhelm the security team. Banning (with help from a few others) eventually kills all comers (more than 50) using guns, knives and fists. Thus, we see many, many people getting gruesomely shot, with blood spray and gore frequently accompanying their deaths. Twice Banning kills people in cold blood after interrogating them (both times with knives to the head). Throats are slit. Necks broken. By film’s end, the few people who’ve survived must pick their way through the litter of bodies.
Below ground, in the president’s bunker, one woman is brutally executed with a gunshot to the head. Another is beaten, kicked and essentially tortured in an attempt to get information. A South Korean official is similarly executed.
The film opens with the horrifying accident that leaves the president and his wife’s vehicle dangling over the edge of a bridge on a snowy winter night. Her head is bloody and she’s unconscious as Banning tries to extricate her before the car flips onto the ice below and slips beneath the water.
Banning sarcastically dubs North Korea “The United People’s Front of I Don’t Give a F‑‑‑.” Beyond that, there are about 35 more f-words and a dozen or so s-words. We hear “h‑‑‑,” “a‑‑,” a‑‑hole,” “b‑‑ch” and “d‑‑n.” Also, eight or 10 misuses of God’s name (including three paired with “d‑‑n”), and six or eight abuses of Jesus’ name.
Somebody smokes cigarettes.
Most Americans don’t tremble with fear at the thought of a modern North Korean assault in the way we once feared the Soviet Union during the Cold War. But that hasn’t stopped a new generation of moviemakers from casting the shadowy North Korean regime in Russia’s old role.
Red Dawn remake, anyone?
Olympus Has Fallen feels marginally more believable than the 2012 incarnation of Red Dawn. It’s easier to conceive of a deceptive scheme like the one Kang unleashes than it is to suspend disbelief when it comes to the full-on military assault Red Dawn depicts.
That said, there’s a more obvious comparison Olympus Has Fallen evokes: Die Hard. Just as Bruce Willis’ John McClane deals out deadly underdog retribution in each of those franchise films, so Gerard Butler does here. As cool as Olympus Has Fallen is as a title, it more easily could have been called Die Hard 6: White House Wasteland.
And there’s a lot of waste here, and even more hard dying, to be sure.
We see innocent civilians getting mowed down in the streets and bricks falling on them from the toppling Washington Monument. We see a bloody boy in the ER. We see one woman repeatedly beaten to a bloody pulp, and another led screaming and terrified to her death as Kang coldly puts a gun to her head and pulls the trigger … on camera as a shocked national security team watches in real time at the Pentagon. We see knives to throats, knives to heads.
We know where it’s all going, of course. Where it has to go. Kang getting what’s coming to him. Violently. And his bloody end gets paired, almost simultaneously, with a reaffirmation of the American way of life, one that embraces “dignity,” “integrity” and “honor,” President Asher tells the country in a speech after Kang is dispatched.
At its best, our country is absolutely about those virtues. They’re absolutely worth fighting for. And dying for, if need be. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder as I listened to the theater audience hoot, clap and cheer when Banning stuck a knife in Kang’s head whether or not brutal, hyperviolent entertainment such as this is really the best way to reinforce those cherished values.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.