London Has Fallen (2016)
“The world’s leaders have assembled. So have their enemies.”
London Has Fallen (2016)
Director: Babak Najafi
Cast: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman
Synopsis: In London for the Prime Minister’s funeral, Mike Banning discovers a plot to assassinate all the attending world leaders.
Circumstances have conspired to prevent me from writing a review of the sequel to the surprise hit Olympus Has Fallen until a full three days after viewing it. This wouldn’t normally pose too much of a problem, but London Has Fallen, which sees Gerard Butler (Gods of Egypt) running around a deserted London killing more or less anyone who gets in his way, is so generic and forgettable that much of it has already faded from memory.
Butler reprises the role of US Secret Service agent Mike Banning, friend and protector to President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart – Nurse Betty, The Dark Knight). With the birth of his first child imminent, Banning is sitting at his laptop toying with the idea of resigning from the service when the unexpected death of the British Prime Minister requires the presence of his boss, along with most other major heads of states, for the hurriedly organised state funeral in London. On the day of the service, Banning ensures the President arrives earlier than scheduled to take his place amongst the other world leaders at Westminster Abbey; it’s a precaution which probably saves his life as the other major attendees, all of whom appear largely unconcerned by matters of security, are assassinated in a co-ordinated terrorist attack which sees the destruction of many of London’s landmark, and the entire city being locked down while the British emergency services struggle to cope with the crisis. Banning manages to escort the President to a waiting helicopter, but when it’s shot down by a missile, the President and his bodyguard have no choice but to try and reach safety on foot through a city crawling with heavily armed terrorists.
We generally tend to cut mindless action movies a lot of slack. Their purpose is to provide the audience with a visceral experience in which many dispensable extras are killed in interestingly violent ways, so to criticise them for a lack of narrative depth or characterisation is pointless. However, London Has Fallen’s disregard for even a semblance of realism, and it’s assumption of a lack of intelligence on the part of its audience, borders on the contemptuous. Middle-aged men emerge virtually unscathed from the wreck of a helicopter that has been blasted out of the sky; an extensive terrorist network infiltrates not only two of Britain’s three emergency services in order to get as close to world leaders as I am to the keyboard on which I’m writing this review, but also the army officers of the Queen’s Guard, and then, with the press of a button, cut the power supply to the city. How they manage this remains a mystery. It certainly doesn’t matter to the film’s four writers, who have essentially conspired to reduce London Has fallen to a cinematic version of one those kids’ games in which the object is to reach an agreed base without being tagged by those guarding it. Only this grown-up version has heavy-duty firearms and violence.
In the imposing Mike Banning we have a hero who despatches bad guys with the ruthless efficiency and self-satisfaction of a seasoned serial killer. At one point he revels in slowly and repeatedly pushing a knife into a wounded terrorist as the stricken man’s brother listens on the end of a walkie-talkie. ‘Was that necessary?’ asks the President. ‘No,’ his aide, whom we are expected to identify with and admire, breezily replies. Somehow, the good guys have become virtually indistinguishable from the bad. In London Has Fallen the representatives of each side are loving family men, both of whom are involved with major international arms dealers. The difference is that one of these organisations is the United States government and the other is a family business run by men with swarthy complexions who all, apparently, hail from ‘f***headistan’. The only difference between these two organisations is that the family business sells to terrorists and despotic regimes, something, of course which the U.S. (and other Western countries) never, ever does. If it were intentional, such subversive irony would be near-sublime, but as there is nothing else about London Has Fallen to suggest its writers possess the necessary insight or intelligence to come up with such a concept, one has to assume the significance escaped them.
At least Iranian director Babak Najafi shows a comprehensive understanding of the staple ingredients necessary to deliver a successful action thriller. The action is plentiful, well-staged and frequently exciting, and Gerard Butler makes a reassuringly indomitable hero. There is little doubt, then, that those who wish for only gunfire, fist-fights and explosions from London Has Fallen will be more than happy with what they see.
(Reviewed 16th March 2016)