In 2013, Antoine Fuqua (The Equalizer) directed an action film called Olympus Has Fallen, that saw North Korean terrorists take the White House down. Only for one man to save the president, the country and kick ass aplenty and make the odd wisecrack while doing it. This was a film that, this writer once described as “having a screenplay that seemed like it was written by Duke Nukem”, and that was a plus point. For all its cheesiness and dubious politics, the film was a bit of fun, not to be taken too seriously and it worked. So, a sequel was obviously on the menu, and this time it is London that comes under fire in Iranian-Swedish director Babak Najafi’s London Has Fallen. Could be fun right?
The film sees head of the secret service Mike Banning (Gerard Butler)- the aforementioned one man ass kicker- accompany the President of the United States (Aaron Eckhart) to the state funeral of the recently passed British Prime Minister. This gathering of world leaders is heavily guarded but has been infiltrated by a sinister group of terrorists, with the soul intent of crushing their enemies. Only Banning’s set of skills and limited allies can save the President, and thus the Western world, from annihilation. London Has Fallen should have been a fun throwaway action flick but sadly, where last time there seemed to be a simplistic charm on display, this sequel has an embraced and bafflingly stupid sense of finger waving jingoism about it.
Olympus Has Fallen was far from subtle but it knew what it was, nobody expected any political commentary (not a bad thing to attempt if you know what the hell you are doing) and this sequel wastes an unbelievably starry (the opening credits raise your eyebrows) cast on a film that, in trying to anchor a message just ends up as insensitively timed hogwash. Opening with a drone strike, chock full of innocent death, the film seems to attempt to make a statement on collateral damage in war, only to throw out a rather racist “sod it, shoot the rag heads” mentality instead. The film even ends in a very similar manner to which it began. Nothing has been learnt and at any moment you expect “Team America, F**k Yeah” to blare out from behind Butler’s protagonist, as ‘merica saves the world because everyone else are ‘useless pansies’. Besides the racial issues that come with it though, action movies are not pacifist pictures, nor should they be but when the lead character is stripped of emotion, humanity or humour and his actions are as incendiary as the supposed villains’, “from F***headistan or wherever” (yep, that’s an actual line in the movie), who do you root for? Bryan Mills, John Rambo, John Matrix, Snake Plissken, Sarah Conner, hell even Harry Callahan had appealing qualities, Banning did last time, now not so much.
There is admittedly the odd effective sequence, and you can laugh at how straight they play it- seriously, the tone is so unsmiling it is as though the makers thought this would be a modern day action classic. All this is not helped by the fact that the first third of the film seems determined to go to blockbuster-sized levels of destruction but the effects are atrocious and play out like PS2 cut-scenes. Why on earth they went bigger, when the effects were not suited to it (another thing the first movie realised) is beyond us? Butler did a fine job the first time but this is barely the same character, Freeman just looks shocked for the whole duration and Aaron Eckhart is only there to say how bad every situation that he and Butler’s ridiculously macho flag waver walk into is. The rest of the cast is slapped into atypical roles, each more unmemorable than the last. True, the film does effectively twang a Neanderthal nerve every now and then but overall this feels like a Donald Trump rally with bigger pyrotechnics. In fact, was “Let’s Make America great again”, the poster quote?
LONDON HAS FALLEN / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: BABAK NAJAFI / SCREENPLAY: CREIGHTON ROTHENBERGER, KATRIN BENEDIKT, CHAD ST. JOHN, CHRISTIAN GUDEGAST / STARRING: GERARD BUTLER, AARON ECKHART, MORGAN FREEMAN, ALON MONI ABOUTBOUL, ANGELA BASSETT, MELISSA LEO, ROBERT FORSTER, CHARLOTTE RILEY / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW