Year Released: 2013
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua
Starring: Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckhart
(R, 119 min.)
“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” Mark Twain
Pass the popcorn and strap yourself in for the ride. The first summer blockbuster has arrived early, and it’s no surprise that it’s the sneering critics rather than the plot that’s so predictable.
Gerard Butler, playing exiled Secret Service Agent Mike Banning, returns from the Rom Com badlands to do what he does best – mowing down the bad guys with brutal determination. Tossing aside the Cary Grant suits which never really fit, he’s back to the comfortable Spartan battle gear we remember so well from his grand turn as Sparta's King Leonidas in 300.
Olympus Has Fallen takes us to a White House under siege from a North Korean terrorist team. With the Nazis getting a bit long in the tooth, these North Koreans seem to be the politically correct go-to bad guys right now. If we didn’t know better, we might even suspect that the pudgy and pugnacious King Jong Un has received his recent marching orders from a deep pocketed film marketing crew, his recent military posturing coinciding almost perfectly with the March 22nd release date.
Training Day director Antoine Fuqua softens us up with a taste of humanity to sustain us through the collateral damage and carnage that explodes across the screen soon enough. And yes, he shamelessly invokes emotive symbols to slap us around throughout.
He lures us in with a Currier and Ives Christmas portrait at Camp David, complete with a warm fireplace, a wintry snowstorm, and a print shop perfect first family. The only thing missing is the loyal spaniel, an opening filled nicely by Mike Banning, who advises the first lady on which earrings to wear, and is an all around best friend/friendly uncle to the President (Aaron Eckhart) and his son Connor (Finley Jacobsen) respectively.
But an icy bridge brings all those warm feelings to a halt when Banning is able to save the President but not his wife from a plunge into the dark waters below.
More darkness arrives on another symbolic day, or rather one day after, when the post Four of July skies host not fireworks but what looks like a retro World War II bomber heading straight for the White House, emasculating the Washington Monument on the way in. Time to suspend some disbelief here, as the invaders take down the People’s House with ruthless precision, employing some trash dumpsters with some very unlikely cargo, another retro object used with lethal results. The whole scene is almost as horrific and unlikely as a two commercial aircraft taking down those iconic towers in New York a dozen years ago.
Almost first on their list, the terrorists take down a bullet-ridden Old Glory, and Fuqua captures its fall in slow motion. Predictably, of course, this scene lacks the proper nuance and creates a symbolic dread from groaning critics who shun its “jingoistic patriotic fervor.” Watching this carnage – tourists and brave secret service personnel mowed down with equal abandon – is Mike Banning, now confined to an office job since the President cannot bear to be reminded of the Christmas tragedy by his presence. The rest of the film is Banning's lonesome trek across the litter of dead patriots and shattered glass to save his President once again.
It’s not the allegiance to our flag that worries this critic so much as the blinkered loyalty to the President that follows his capture. With both the President and Vice President held by the terrorists in the underground bunker, Speaker Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) must make the hard decisions. Morgan Freeman’s voice has the authority of a Greek prophet, luring us into an easy acceptance of his temporary ascent to Olympus, but the only order he gives with real authority is for a cup of black coffee.
He is all too concerned with what critic Gregory Hood has labeled the “cult of the Presidency.” Too easily he and the resident general (Robert Forster) agree to evacuate American troops and our Seventh Fleet from South Korea to save the President’s life. Even the President himself turns mushy, ordering both the Vice President and this Secretary of Defense to give up their secret codes when they are tortured in front of him. He has the final code needed and will take the torture on himself instead, vowing that they will never get it from him. Nice sense of chivalry, old man, but not what we need in a Commander in Chief, a judgment that is born out when the Korean hacker is able to break the final code herself.
Luckily, we have a nice turn with the American females as well. Not only have they broken the glass ceiling, but they walk pretty well over its jagged shards as well. Melissa Leo’s Secretary of Defense has a feisty physical courage, and cheesy as it is, I loved her reciting a defiant Pledge of Allegiance as she is dragged away. She must have gone to school back in the days when that was still allowed in our classrooms.
Angela Bassestt as Director of the Secret Service is the only one is the war room who has faith in discredited Agent Banning, and she rejects the general’s ill-fated rescue attempt just as a savvy Banning does.
And yes, of course Olympus Has Fallen is not especially original. Depending on your point of view, it is either a blatant rip off of the original Die Hard or the 1999 Vince Flynn novel, Transfer of Power. Not to mention hat tips to Clint Eastwood’s 1993 In the Line of Fire or Harrison Ford's 1997 Air Force One. The less charitable critics use this as a double-edged sword, first calling the film derivative and then lambasting it for not living up to its predecessors. Do they protest too much?
Matt Singer calls it “…a passionately loony blend of ‘Die Hard’ clichés and feverish right wing paranoia.”
Not to be outdone, Matt Singer labels it “…Red meat for the red state-minded—and something of an embarrassment for the rest of us—Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen is awash in flag-waving clichés, silly symbolism.”
Their put-downs recall the saying about success having many fathers while failure is an orphan. Indeed, these pretentious critics must fear the success of even a fallen Olympus to try so hard to discredit it and its so-called multiple fathers.
Our brooding Secret Service agent doesn’t take to well to his new desk job. And that really puts him off his feed, so much so that his beautiful wife has to go to the Fourth of July barbecue all alone.
Well, by the end of the film, we can guarantee Agent Banning has worked up a more than healthy appetite. Let’s grill him up something he might have missed at the barbecue.
Easter in Texas marks the opening of our grilling season, and this recipe might serve you well for the coming holiday, whether you cook it on the grill or away from the snow inside your cozy kitchen.
Best Ever Grilled Veggies
3 red bell peppers, seeded and halved
3 yellow squash (about 1 pound total), sliced lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick rectangles
3 zucchini (about 12 ounces total), sliced lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick rectangles
3 Japanese eggplant (12 ounces total), sliced lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick rectangles
12 cremini mushrooms
1 bunch (1-pound) asparagus, trimmed
12 green onions, roots cut off
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
1 teaspoon chopped fresh basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
Place a grill pan over medium-high heat or prepare the barbecue (medium-high heat). Brush the vegetables with 1/4 cup of the oil to coat lightly. Sprinkle the vegetables with salt and pepper. Working in batches, grill the vegetables until tender and lightly charred all over, about 8 to 10 minutes for the bell peppers; 7 minutes for the yellow squash, zucchini, eggplant, and mushrooms; 4 minutes for the asparagus and green onions. Arrange the vegetables on a platter. The key to getting those great grill marks is to not shift the vegetables too frequently once they've been placed on the hot grill.
Meanwhile, whisk the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, parsley, basil, and rosemary in a small bowl to blend. Add salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle the herb mixture over the vegetables. Serve the vegetables, warm or at room temperature.