'London Has Fallen'
In the great battle of “Die Hard in the White House” movies of 2013, ‘Olympus Has Fallen’ emerged as the unlikely victor. That was mostly because it was released before the similarly themed and titled ‘White House Down’, but mostly because it was less overblown (i.e. no Roland Emmerich) and more fun. Now we’re treated to an inevitable sequel in ‘London Has Fallen’. As expected, production values are higher and quality is lower.
The original ‘Olympus Has Fallen’ may have been a big, stupid and reductive action movie, but in ways that reminded viewers of a more innocent age when big, stupid and reductive action movies dominated the box office and VHS rental charts. The sequel is still pretty amusing in a “Can you believe human adults actually made this thing?” way, but also a little uncomfortably icky in its politics.
The British Prime Minister has died in London under mysterious circumstances, so all the prominent leaders of the Western world have come to the city in support. Now, that might seem like a horrible idea that can only go wrong, but this is a big dumb action movie, so these things must happen! American President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) will be in attendance, which means he’ll have his bestest buddy and super security guard Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) by his side. Banning is about to be a father, so he’s contemplating retirement to settle down and this will likely be his last mission for the President. Obviously, that means it’ll be a quiet mission that’ll go off without a hitch, right? Wrong! You see, this whole event has been arranged by a super-duper Islamic terrorist (Alon Moni Aboutboul) so that he can blow up all the leaders of the free world at once in the greatest act of terror in the history of terrorism. The plan was diabolically perfect. The only hitch is that it didn’t account for Mike Banning… BIG MISTAKE!
Yeah, you can probably guess how things go from there, and you’d be right. That’s not necessarily a fault in the movie, though. Dumb-dumb action films are predictable beasts, after all. It would almost be a disappointment if this thing weren’t predictable as well. While ‘Olympus Has Fallen’ ripped off the ‘Die Hard’ formula, ‘London Has Fallen’ shifts gears to gently rip off the plot of the underrated threequel ‘Die Hard with a Vengeance’ (a.k.a. the one that started the unfortunate trend of titling that franchise with puns). Like that John McClane vs. New York epic, ‘London Has Fallen’ is structured in such a way that as soon as the characters make their way out of one action sequence, the off-camera villain sets up the next action sequence for them to dive into. No need to waste time on exposition! Just keep plowing into action scenes until it becomes exhausting and then toss in another eight action sequences for good measure. Boom-boom, bang-bang, one-liner, lather, rinse, repeat.
That’s actually not a bad way to stretch out ‘Olympus Has Fallen’ into a franchise. If nothing else, the four screenwriters responsible for this thing deserve credit for managing to cram as much spectacle into the screen time as possible with little wasted on talking, characterization or logic. It’s a perfectly efficient action machine that Iranian director Babak Najafi (whom you might remember from that time you didn’t watch ‘Easy Money II: Hard to Kill’) directs with style and insanity. Near the climax, he even launches a massive faux single-take action scene that would qualify as an impressive filmmaking accomplishment were it not a part of such a boneheaded movie.
Gerard Butler screams until you can hear his Scottish accent creep through and yet again delivers a performance that can only be described as “competent.” Aaron Eckhart growls behind Butler, practically begging to get a gun before transforming into the most ass-kicking President since Harrison Ford got sick and tired of people being on his plane. The other big names from the last movie such as Morgan Freeman, Angela Basset, Melissa Leo and Robert Forster return as well, only this time their roles are contained within a single government war room so that they could fulfill their contractual obligations in the least amount of time possible without leaving the room. That about sums up the commitment every actor seemed to have for this sequel, with the possible exception of Butler.
‘London Has Fallen’ gets the gang back together for a movie just as dumb and even more explosive than the original. What’s the problem? Well… the villains. The last movie might have served up plenty of xenophobia with North Korean terrorists, but this time the producers went full Isis. In an age when ‘True Lies’ still hasn’t been released on Blu-ray allegedly because of its insensitive depiction of Muslims, it’s amazing that ‘London Has Fallen’ got produced and released on such a grand scale. Sure, James Cameron may have belittled those characters with slapstick comedy, but this movie paints all Muslims as such vicious, psychotic and heartless villains that it feels a little gross.
This is all custom designed to make Trump supporters cheer and applaud at the screen, and I don’t find too much wrong with a little patriotic/propagandistic B-movie silliness. However, this is a bit much. It’s a little too hateful and a little too cartoonish given the genuine threat such real world terrorists present, as well as pandering to the repellant Islamophobia that’s becoming a plague. While obviously there’s nothing wrong with presenting terrorists as villains (in fact, it’s appropriate), something about ‘London Has Fallen’ crosses a line. I’d imagine the producers specifically hired an Iranian filmmaker to avoid accusations of racism, but that wasn’t enough.
Still, a certain political ickiness is hardly something that will bother most viewers. For better or worse, that’s kind of a genre convention in this sort of dumbbell blockbuster. Most folks likely won’t even notice, while some (like me) will just laugh at the absurdity of it all, which is really the only appropriate reaction to anything in this movie. If you dare to take any component of ‘London Has Fallen’ seriously, you’ll likely be offended by some brand of stupidity. The best approach is just to kick back and laugh away at an action movie so dumb that it turns into camp comedy between all the pretty explosions. Just like how they used to make ’em.