Let’s go to the Whitehouse

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Directed by Antoine Fuqua (who was once subtle in his storytelling—or at least more so) Olympus Has Fallen follows Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) and President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) as they bro it up at Camp David. It is a dark and snowy night, and a car accident happens on a bridge. Banning must save the president and can’t rescue the first lady.

Cut to 18 months later and Banning has been removed from the service (as with others there that night) and the president is meeting with the South Korean delegation at the Whitehouse. I get that it is realistic for the agents to probably be removed—not due to doing anything wrong—but just the way things go. However, I’m not sure if those removed would remain super-loyal to the idea of the Secret Service.

Shortly after the delegation arrives a C130 attacks D.C. and things get wild. The Whitehouse is sieged, and everything is taken over. The South Korean security team is actual a radical terrorist group (oh snap) and they take the president hostage. Tons of explosives and gunfights abound as Banning quickly becomes the last man standing.

Does this sound a bit like Die Hard or Air Force One? It probably should. The film wears these comparisons on its sleeve. Folks wanting a healthy slap of 90s action will find a lot to enjoy here. We have a lot of hectic battles and lots of explosions.

The military appears unable to do anything to help, so this is pretty much Banning against everyone himself. I get that we as the audience want this to be the situation, but the implausibility of the military not breaching (particularly once they realize the terrorists’ plans) doesn’t work as well here. The division of wanting action and wanting logic puts movies like this in a weird position. Part of the reason why this movie works as entertaining brain candy is that it doesn’t bother giving us much to think about—so storytelling must take a backseat to spectacle.

We used to be more willing to watch pure spectacle in the past—and perhaps we still are to a certain extent (I mean John Wick is doing well). However, the reason we seem to be more okay with Wick and less with Banning is that Wick is oddly apolitical. The entire franchise exists in a shadow world. Here, we have images of American flags, photos of presidents, and the Whitehouse being used in an action film. Whether the filmmaker wanted to or not (and I think he did) these images come with a bit of political baggage that is going to be increasingly difficult to avoid. Take a few minutes to read some user reviews on IMDB—I’ll wait.

You probably noticed a couple things. First, some hip reviewer must have used to the term jingoism since it appears so much on these boards. Second, people see this film as excessively patriotic—perhaps even propaganda. I’m not sure this was the intent of the film because to have this sort of intent would require a bit more cohesion to the images, we see than we are given. I guess I just said this film isn’t smart enough to be propaganda. While that is perhaps a little unfair to the film, I also think action movies will ultimately be forced into a good-group versus bad-group. I don’t know if there is a way to avoid political imagery. Perhaps it could be done better, but would doing so defeat the purpose of the film?

Sure, it is a bit of chest-thumping patriot porn, but so what? For all the complaints that Hollywood is too left of center we get plenty of these movies. If you want a Die Hard with less charm give this one a go. I don’t think it is a groundbreaking film, but it is an entertaining way to spend the evening.

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