London Has Fallen (2016) / Action-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for strong violence and language throughout
Running Time: 99 min.
Cast: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Alon Aboutboul, Radha Mitchell, Angela Bassett, Charlotte Riley, Jackie Earle Hailey, Robert Forster, Melissa Leo
Director: Babak Najafi
Screenplay: Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt, Christian Gudegast, Chad St. John
Review published March 6, 2016
London Has Fallen the follow-up to Olympus Has Fallen, a film that was only a small-scale hit in 2013, taking in less than $100 million in North America. Despite its R rating, the Antoine Fuqua film bested another "President Under Siege" film at the box office the same year, the PG-13 rated Roland Emmerich actioner White House Down, and did so with less than half of the budget (the latter did better overseas). It's curious as to why the makers of this sequel would think that the marginally successful and modestly entertaining original would have enough of a fan-base clamoring for more, and that it would deserve a reported $105 million budget. I suppose that's why I'm not in the movie business, because, to me, the numbers don't add up.
The story begins in Pakistan, with an American drone strike on the abode of terrorist-supplying arms dealer Aamir Barkawi (Aboutboul, The Dark Knight Rises), where a wedding appears to be taking place. Two years later, the unfortunate death of the British prime minister has many world leaders converging on London to attend his funeral. That's when the enemies of the Western world, led by Barkawi (who somehow managed not to die in the drone strike), decide to strike back, with an elaborate plot to assassinate all of the heads of state and to blow up all of London's most prominent landmarks. Many of the terrorists out and about in the guise of the local police and palace guards, making it difficult for the military to separate friend from foe, so the upheaval of the city is not in ready sight. However, President of the United States Benjamin Asher (Eckhart, I Frankenstein) is still alive, thanks to the continued heroic efforts of his Secret Service super-agent, Mike Banning (Butler, Gods of Egypt), who must work twice as hard as ever before to make sure the terrorists don't succeed in their plan on kidnapping Asher and executing him live on world television.
If some critics derided Olympus Has Fallen for its wanton flag-waving, they'll probably want to excoriate London Has Fallen for not only doing it yet again, but playing as if it were an infomercial to sell us the War on Terror as something we should make our number one concern. To do this, the makers of the film throw all logic to the wind in order to fabricate the worst case scenario in which world leaders and one of the world's largest cities would come under attack, expecting us to believe that terrorist cells could somehow sneak into every level of the police force, military, and goverment, and hatch a perfectly executed elaborate plan without a hitch, knowing the precise locations of where each head of state would be at a certain time (all at separate landmarks for reasons unknown), and then expect us to believe that the U.S. President's bodyguard could take down such a formidable force nearly singlehandedly.
London Has Fallen plays like a mix of preposterous 1990s action-thrillers combined with a modern-day, over-the-top action video game aesthetic. Some portions seem so inspired by the look and feel of "Call of Duty" that at times one might think this could pass as a sequel-in-spirit to another Gerard Butler vehicle, Gamer, in which he played a character in an actual video game. As for Butler, he appears to be taking most of it in rather nonchalantly, given not only that his own life is in mortal jeopardy, but the world is on the brink of utter chaos should the terrorists succeed in their nefarious plans to rattle the world's foundations. Just as Bruce Willis would in the Die Hard series, Butler's Mike Banning finds plenty of time for quips and self-amusement, particularly in figuring out ways to employ a whole host of cool ways to kill off nameless, faceless terrorists who manage to always be anticipating them during every step of their escape route. Whether by air, by street, or by subway, every possible location is teeming with bad guys with just the right weapons and vehicles for the situation.
Despite being a risky financial proposition given the lukewarm feelings among the movie-going populace, the makers of London Has Fallen have chosen to retain its R-rated status. I suppose it's respectable to find that it's not just another blatant cash grab, but, really, most of the pleasures of these films for action fans come from the harder action nature of them, with lots of death, destruction, stabbings, impalings, and head-shots galore. While I do enjoy my share of more adult levels of violence, I tend to shy away from bestowing praise upon movies if the levels of violence aren't earned. Unfortunately, London Has Fallen is all too gleeful in its bloody kill-shots, perhaps thinking that our rah-rah rooting on of the Western world against the agents of terror would be enough for us to delight in seeing as many of them get dispatched, point blank, while their CGI-blood is left on the walls behind the spot where their lifeless bodies drop lifelessly to the floor. Speaking of CGI, the use of it in this film is, in a word, shoddy, especially for such a wide release Hollywood film, which further solidifies the notion that the film should have just been made for the PS4.
Despite four credited screenwriters taking a crack at the script, London Has Fallen is an utterly absurd film, chock full of action-movie clichés that will likely only please those who prefer to check their brains at the door before walking in to their two-hour, "America F-Yeah" explode-a-thons. I'm all for a popcorn flick, but this one's scraping so low in the bucket that all we're offered to savor are the dregs of lukewarm oil on half-popped kernels. Early in the film, Mike Banning claims to be made up of 'bourbon and poor choices.' Bourbon might make for a wise choice for viewers to be able to counteract the poor choice to take in this movie with any intention other than to laugh at its brazen headfirst dive into insipid cinematic silliness.
©2016 Vince Leo