Monday, August 19, 2013

The Politics Of: Olympus Has Fallen

'Olympus' Is The Nickname of The Flag On Top Of The White House
Coming, as ever, late to the party (due to The Omnivore's two young kids) it's another politics-movie review just a day after it hits PPV cable! That's timely. In the first part The Omnivore reviews the movie (relatively non-spoilerific) and in the second, the politics (spoilers abound).

Olympus Has Fallen
One of a spate (two, if you count White House Down, three, if you count the relatively quick GI Joe Retaliation White House redecorating scene) of White House take-over movies, Olympus Has Fallen gives us Gerard Butler as the heroic Secret Service agent who must single-handledly save the day and Aaron Eckhart as the president who must be saved. The term 'Olympus' is apparently the real Secret Service code for the White House.

The movie opens with a catastrophe where Butler does the right thing and is punished for it. The President's limo almost goes off a bridge (in an unlikely scene--the idea that they were driving fast enough to push even an armored SUV through the cement and re-bar rail like that strained my belief) and he must either save the first lady or the president. He chooses, of course, the president--but as the president can't bear to see him every day, he's assigned to a desk job where he's clearly depressed and bored.

When, during a North Korean crisis, a large force stages a military assault of the White House, Butler gets to the scene and then, as the sole survivor of the event, must Die Hard his way through legions of enemy soldiers. In the command center, Morgan Freeman plays the Speaker of the House who has to make decisions about terrorist demands, use of force, and taking risks. Trapped inside the White House, Finley Jacobson plays Connor, the president's young son who is also being actively sought by the enemy. If they get him, they can pressure the president into doing, well, whatever their shadowy agenda calls for.

The movie is an action-adventure explosion-fest in the model of the later Die Hard movies. In the original Die Hard we saw what passed for actual intelligence on the part of the 'terrorists' (and they also had real charisma with Alan Rickman playing the lead terrorist!). Here we get large plot holes and Rick Yune as the inscrutable 'Kang.' While Butler has some gravitas (and Eckhart as POTUS is good) the movie is generally dour.

It's also very, very violent. Civilians are slaughtered wholesale in the streets (with large bullet holes in them), suicide bombers go off, we see scores of dead bodies. There is ample blood splatter when someone is shot. This movie does not have a sense of humor about it (which White House Down did) and the slow-motion shot of the Washington Monument collapsing downward uncomfortably echoes the World Trade Centers falling on 9/11.

We get to see summary executions of some of the Joint Chiefs of Staff--and maybe the female Secretary of State (whether she dies or not, I won't say here). I think these images are supposed to be powerful in the way that having the US President kneel before Zod did in Superman 2--but with our terribly divided country I just found them somewhat tiresome.

Freeman, of course, is always good--but the external command team isn't the focus of the story and he doesn't have much to do. Olympus Has Fallen is way, way less concerned with the White House trivia (although there's a little of that) than White House Down and the president spends most of his time as a hostage rather than being an active participant.

In short, I found Olympus Has Fallen to have a sufficient quantity of explosions and an adequate cadre of stars--but it's, I think, an unintentionally grim experience. The movie isn't all darkness and tears--but everything from Butler's marriage not working out because he's so depressed to the still-stilted after-the-first-lady-died presidential father and son scene, it seems that the writers felt the need to "get some drama" around their action sequences and, failing to have any great ideas, just packed the filler with awkwardness.

Olympus Has Fallen is probably worth the watch on cable--or if you want to see the building blow up in loving detail--but I saw it Pay-Per-View for six bucks and I'd like my six dollars back.

Let's do the politics!

The Politics of Olympus Has Fallen
The White House take-over plot is as follows:
  1. As North Korea mobilizes for war (WAR!!) so, for some reason, a delegation including the South Korean Premier will go to the White House to meet with the president (what he's doing out of the country on the eve of a potential invasion is, of course, not clear).
  2. Secreted in this force are two traitors--one is Kang, a North Korean terrorist escapee who, for 'reasons' wants to bring down America. The other is a well loved ex-Secret Service guy who is now private security (and evil).
  3. During the meeting, a C-130 (a giant military transport airplane) outfitted with hidden gattling guns flies into White House airspace, shoots down its military (F22) fighter escort, uses flares to evade the White House missile system, and then turns its guns on the street wreaking havoc.
  4. At the same time, suicide bombers hit the fence and dump-trucks outfitted with machine guns attack the gates (also: RPG rockets). A large armed force of men flows through the holes and guns down the Secret Service who stage (with nothing but hand guns) a stupid, doomed attempt to hold the White House by rushing out the front doors and into machine gun fire.
  5. As the president is, by now, in his bunker--and having (apparently predictably) brought his South Korean friends--against protocol--the traitors spring into action, slaughter the guards and take the president and other senior staff hostage.
  6. While making bogus demands, what they really do is get the 'Cerberus codes' from one of the JCS, the Secretary of State, and (if they capture his kid) the president.
  7. The codes allow them to detonate all the nuclear missiles in their silos plunging America into chaos and famine. They plan to get the hostages (and two suicide bombers) onto a waiting 'escape' helicopter (everyone wears hoods and is covered up so the snipers can't tell who is on the plane and who isn't) and then blow the bombers--making everyone think Kang is dead ... he keeps the president for insurance--and they sneak out. At least Die Hard gave us an ambulance to sketch out a plausible escape plan ...
Frankly, this is stupid. It's stupid on a number of levels--but let's see:
  1. The idea that North Korea massing for war is something that would lead to high-level in-person discussions at the White House with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of State all in the same room is never explored at all. We hear Kang saying, seriously, "North Korea has an army of 1 million men--the threat is real." He doesn't mention they have outdated gear, little food, and (probably) no motor-oil. Their siege would penetrate less than a day's ride into South Korea if it could clear the DMZ at all, which is doubtful. We are shown Red Army style parade videos and the movie expects us to think this is Soviet Russia invading Europe.
  2. White House security is tighter than the movie portrays (it had an ex-Secret Service adviser but, as one person points out, The Core had a science adviser). For one thing, the White House probably has laser defenses (which we do not see in the film). For another, the Secret Service response would almost certainly involve hiding inside the bullet-proof armored building rather than running out to the front lawn using nine-milometer guns against machine guns. According to some, there is, like, a battalion of guys real-close-by waiting to crush such an attack.
  3. If the president doesn't bring the South Korean delegation to the bunker, the whole plan is shot. If the SS doubles up its guys down there, the plan is shot too as they have guns and you don't. 
  4. The whole idea of the Cerberus System (designed to detonate missiles in flight, wholesale, and, apparently, activating their nuclear warheads to do so) is incredibly stupid. The President orders his people to give up theirs rather than face torture--but, of course, to get the president's they will torture and kill those people anyway--this is a massive tactical error on his part rather than mercy. Finally, though, they don't need the president's code ... they just crack it. Uh-huh.
What about, you know, the politics?

Olympus Has Fallen is trying real, real hard to be non-political. It gives us a black Speaker of the House (in the form of Freeman--so we know he's a good guy). The political discussion hits absolute zero in terms of policy or, indeed, making any kind of sense. The white-guy president is clearly not Obama and we see absolutely nothing  to give us indications he belongs to any political party at all.

Really, GI Joe Retaliation had more politics than Olympus Has Fallen when one of the super-villains smacks the captive president and says "That's for the tax increase!" Another super-villain says "you don't even pay taxes." The first guy says "It isn't always about me."

If there's any benefit to this extreme lack of depth for a movie featuring the US Government it's this: If you read the female Secretary of State as Hillary Clinton you won't have 47% of the theater hoping she gets shot in the end (she doesn't).

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