For the second time in as many months, a film depicts North Korean terrorists attacking US mainland, only to be defeated by a plucky American underdog. Last month’s Red Dawn was indefensibly shitty enough to give Kim Jong-Un a legitimate reason for military escalation; Olympus Has Fallen is similarly jingoistic, and formulaic to a fault, but at least it manages the feat of being rigorously entertaining, rather than painfully stupid.
This is, as plenty have noted, ‘Die Hard In The White House’, possibly the most succinct film synopsis since Hot Tub Time Machine. Gerard Butler is the meatheaded John-McClane-by-any-other-name, right down to the sweary banter with the bad guy over the walkie-talkie, and he is somehow single-handedly the last hope of the largest military in the world. It’s perhaps a testament to the Antoine Fuqua’s gripping action scenes that such a preposterous scenario could almost seem plausible. Perhaps the recurring images of explosions and gunfire gently massaged my brain into obliviousness. No matter – it did the trick. Fuqua has, as Training Day proved, a pretty solid handle on suspense, and a knack for well-timed conflagration-based fun. As an action film, it out-Die Hards the most recent Die Hard.
And it’s frequently hilarious, whether intentional or not. Symbolism in Olympus Has Fallen is, for example, beguilingly transparent. This is a film which doesn’t so much wear its patriotism on its sleeve as it does tattoo the stars-and-stripes to its arm with a rusty compass. Never mind the copious and gratuitous shots of the US flag, bedaubed in bullet holes or falling to the ground in slow-mo: the standout scene for amateur psychoanalysts appears early in the film. A North Korean plane crashes into the Washington Monument, that most conspicuous of phallic symbols, and lops the top clean off. How’s that for potent imagery? America, the dick-swinging alpha male of the geopolitical universe, just had the biggest circumcision of all time.
Fortunately by the end of the film some hasty scaffolding has been erected around it and the implication is that the country’s genital reconstruction will commence immediately.