I finally got to see Olympus Has Fallen yesterday, and wow, did it suck. I was coming into the movie planning to, as I do for all blockbuster action movies, totally suspend disbelief, my politics and my critical thinking. To just for a few hours let men be men and ignore my crippling and unmanly awareness of the neo-imperialist and phallogocentric discourses underpinning the patriarchy, causing the gendered and racial stereotypes which blah blah blah.
But I just couldn’t. I tried, and failed. I sat through Die Hard, I sat through Predator. Hell, I even sat through Commando with a mostly straight face. But although Olympus Has Fallen (“Die Hard in the White House” as it has already been called about 272.000 times) delivers solid action scenes and some great setpieces …
Well, look. I just couldn’t make it through two hours of Olympus Has Fallen’s blaringly obvious nostalgia for the 80s blockbuster macho action movie without saying things like “that scene brazenly embraces post-colonial longings for empire while both playing on orientalist tropes in the representation of The Other as collective, sensual, inscrutable and ignorant, and displaying reactionary fears of the emasculation of the Western, heterosexual male in the face of a depolarizing world and the falling fortunes of the neoliberal capitalist orthodoxy.” Out loud. To myself, alone in a room.
So this movie is about, in no particular order, these things:
1. Asian people are coming to destroy the American way.
The villains are Asian. Very Asian. And inscrutable. And eeeevil. Did we mention they’re Asian?
2. Did we mention that they are coming to destroy America?
The movie completely fetishises the destruction of symbols of American power. The flag, in particular, is perforated, shot through, tossed to the ground, burned and ripped. In slow motion. Over mournful music. Like, my Netflix on CC subtitles literally says “SOMBER MUSIC PLAYS”.
3. When we say “Olympus Has Fallen”, we’re referring to the United States.
A huge part of the movie is just blatantly expressing fears about the falling trajectory of the United States. One tag line is “We are never stronger than when we are tested.” Which is a euphemism for “we kind of suck right now and we don’t know what to do about it.”
4. Manliness is under threat from Asian girly men and metrosexual traitor men.
The subtitle of the film could be “masculinity under siege”. One tag line of the movie: “when our flag falls, our nation will rise.” If you know what I mean.There’s all this percolating anxiety about not being manly enough, not rising to the task, of the old kind of masculinity not fitting in to the modern world. It ends up in these unintentionally hilarious moments of phallic symbolism and impotence metaphors. “Olympus” has “Fallen”, indeed. Things come to a … head in a scene that had Freud spinning in his grave like a propeller. Here, terrorists destroy the Washington Monument, which crumbles into dust. At the end, scaffolding is, ehm, erected around the monument. So we can restore America’s hardness, or something.
Also, although this might be harder to pin down, the traitory villain seems a classic metrosexual and the Asian villains all have feminine characteristics including an evil, robot-like woman who does evil things on her computer. The main villain has a perfect coif the whole movie through. And the best-looking suit in the movie. The old idea of the Oriental as being feminine comes to the foreground.
5. Only manly, manful men with muscles and guns are real men.
The men outside the White House do literally everything wrong. Morgan Freeman and them.
6. All these topics come to a head in this shockingly awful speech at the end:
We’ve lost good friends. Family. All good people. Heroes, every one of them. Our hearts and prayers go out to their families. And they will be remembered. Nor will we forget those who serve out of the spotlight, to whom we owe our highest gratitude. Our foe did not come only to destroy our things or our people. They came to desecrate our way of life. To foul our beliefs. Trample our freedom. And in this, not only did they fail, they granted us the greatest gift – a chance at our rebirth. We will rise renewed, stronger, and united. This is our time. Our chance to get back to the best of who we are. To lead by example with the dignity, integrity, and honor that built this country. And which will build it once again. May God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.
Rebirth, rise, renewed, stronger, united, this is our time, get back to the best of who we are, dignity, integrity and honor. Build it once again. God. It’s just so bad. Such an inarticulate expression of the popular subconsciousness, catering to the fantasies of the viewer.