London Has Fallen
2013's Olympus Has Fallen was a surprisingly entertaining Die Hard knock-off set in Washington D.C. with intrepid Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) out to rescue President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) from the hands of terrorists. The film's successful box office run resulted in Butler and many of his co-stars being brought back three years later for a return engagement. And Banning, like Bruce Willis' John McClane, might easily wonder how the "same [stuff] could happen to the same guy twice." This time, the stakes are higher but the terrain is different.
One wonders whether the producers of London Has Fallen had any qualms about releasing the film so soon after the terrorist attacks in Paris. Admittedly, similarities are superficial (a coordinated attack on a major European city), but it's becoming increasingly more difficult to equate this sort of story with "entertainment" as the grim reality of mass murder converges with Hollywood's action-thriller variety. At what point does a movie like London Has Fallen cross the line between escapism and exploitation?
After opening with a few scenes of setup detailing how the characters have evolved since Olympus Has Fallen, London Has Fallen sends President Asher and Banning off to London to attend the funeral of a recently departed Prime Minister. Vice President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) remains behind to run the country. The funeral is actually an elaborate trap orchestrated by arms dealer/terrorist Barkawi (Alon Aboutboul) and his sadistic son, Kamran (Waleed Zuaiter). One-by-one, world leaders are gunned down, blown up, or crushed by debris, until the Last Man Standing is Asher. He and Banning go on the run and, with the help of a British agent (Charlotte Riley, a.k.a. Mrs. Tom Hardy), seek safety while awaiting the cavalry, which is disappointingly tardy.
London Has Fallen is competently made and offers what any viewer would reasonably expect. There's plenty of action, a fair amount of wide-scale destruction, and a rousing climax. The denouement is disappointing but I suppose that's to be expected considering how many diverse threads have to be tied off in a short time. Still, the scene in the parking garage feels awkward and extraneous - something shoehorned in to plug a plot hole. Overall, London Has Fallen is neither as effective nor as rousing as Olympus Has Fallen mainly because of the "been there, done that" factor. Action sequels often suffer from this problem and neither director Babak Najafi nor his small army of screenwriters find a way to make installment #2 sufficiently different from installment #1 to merit the same degree of interest.
Gerard Butler probably needs to play Banning again more than audiences need to see the performance. Butler's once-promising career has foundered and he's in need of a hit to re-establish himself (Gods of Egypt won't be it). With more of Jack Bauer's intensity and less of John McClane's wisecracking, Banning is almost too serious for a would-be popcorn film. Aaron Eckhart gets to be more of an active participant than a male "damsel in distress." Pretty much everyone else returning from the first film - Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Radha Mitchell - is given little or nothing to do. (Then again, one could argue that Mitchell didn't have anything in the first film, either.) The new bad guys are cookie-cutter terrorists, although it's interesting to note that they are represented as illegal arms dealers and no mention is made of an extremist religious ideology.
The attack in London Has Fallen is ludicrous in its complexity and scope, but action films aren't meant to be representations of reality. To the extent that the movie's primary purpose is to elevate the pulse and provide 90 minutes of "sound and fury, signifying nothing," London Has Fallen accomplishes its goal. As action-thrillers go, this one provides what the previews tease. Maybe that's enough for an evening's mindless, throw-away entertainment, but I can't help but be disappointed that the filmmakers couldn't have brought something more inventive to a genre that too often relies on worn-out tropes.
© 2016 James Berardinelli