In 2013, there were two movies released that could loosely by described as “Die Hard in the White House.” One of them was from Master of Disaster Roland Emmerich, which saw a terrorist raid of the presidential residence unfold like a buddy cop comedy with President Jamie Foxx and Secret Service wannabe Channing Tatum. The other film, Olympus Has Fallen, was definitely more deserving of the aforementioned reference to the seminal 1988 film thanks to hard R violence, and an everyman action hero who takes no prisoners, and takes no guff from men in suits. In that spirit, London Has Fallen does everything the first one did but bigger, louder, and bloodier than Gerard Butler‘s last presidential detail.
In the spirit of Die Hard, the sequel to Olympus Has Fallen takes the playbook of the original and just adds the work “bigger” before every action beat; all that was missing was hearing superhero agent Mike Banning (Butler) ask, “How can the same $#!% happen to the same guy twice?” And that’s pretty much how London Has Fallen goes, Banning, whilst protecting President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) at the funeral for the British Prime Minister, finds himself surrounded by terrorists and left alone to protect Asher across the whole of England’s capital as they desperately look for a way out. Forget being trapped in the four walls of the White House, all of London, it seems, is trying to kill Asher and Banning.
The bad guy this time is Aamir Barkawi (Alon Aboutboul), an arms dealer trying to even the score against the West for ordering a drone strike meant to kill him while he attended his daughter’s wedding; she died, he didn’t. One gets the impression that the screenwriting quartet of Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt (who wrote Olympus) plus Christian Gudegast and Chad St. John are trying to say something political, but this isn’t really the time or the place for SAT words like “metaphor” and “allegory.” Early in the movie, Barkawi tells his son (Waleed Zuaiter) that “vengeance must always be profound and absolute,” which is one of those lines you expect a bad guy in an action movie to say, but is actually pretty meaningless when you see it written down.
Unfortunately, Aboutboul doesn’t make nearly the compelling villain that Rick Yune did in Olympus, and the script keeps him on the sidelines and away from the main action for some reason. In fact, other than being gun-totting loons, there’s really nothing to distinguish the villains from any number of generic terrorist types that Hollywood’s been churning out in action movies for the last 30 years. It’s in keeping with the simplistic worldview of the film, where only the American President, protected under the iron wing of rugged individual Agent Superman, is shrewd enough to avoid death or capture. The milquetoast Canadian PM, the Italian leader with his super young GF, and the French President caught chillaxing on a boat are all, naturally, the first to die.
The main thrust of London Has Fallen’s relatively brief hour-and-a-half running time is to kick ass and take names. Hell, nobody really bothers to take names. This is the type of movie where when a key character dies, their last words are “Make those f**kers pay!” This is the type of movie where every time you kill somebody you make a joke or a quip. This is the type of movie where the chief of police is actually named “Hazard,” and the good guy shoots somebody in a wheelchair three times like its no big thing. And this is the type of movie where the President recites the Oath of Office as tough guy bravado. Is there an action movie cliche that this movie missed? Hard to say, you lose track after about 20 minutes.
Still, there’s a delightful assurance in the way London Has Fallen delivers; it doesn’t re-invent the wheel, nor does it seem bothered to try. Iranian director Babak Najafi, whose most familiar credit to date maybe directing a pair of episodes from Cinemax’s Banshee, does a journeyman’s job for the most part on London, aping the gritty, bloody violence established by Antoine Fuqua in Olympus, and really that’s all he needed to do. Still, he allowed himself room for creative flourish. There’s a long-take during the climax where Banning and others are fighting their way down the street to the terrorist hideout that’s really quite well down. Almost artistic, actually. Unfortunately, it’s then followed by a most basic ode to the first person shooter, and all all creative momentum is zapped for shooting and more shooting.
Honestly though, that five minutes of impressive technical filmmaking was more than I expected from London Has Fallen. Really, my expectations were modest, and that was to see an action/adventure movie that called back to the taste and decorum of the 80s classics, the Cannon canon if you will. To ascribe political subtext to this movie would be like trying to find subtext in Cyborg and Missing in Action, so why bother trying? When Banning pontificates that terrorists have always been trying to bring down the U.S. of A. and that the Republic will still be standing a thousand years from now, sure, you can read that as jingoism, but really they’re just reaffirming that in this story, Banning is the bull, and he’s always going to give the bad guys his horns.
This is the kind of thing Butler was made for, playing a character who’s part action figure and part guy you get pissed with down at the pub during the football match. Who cares if his accent sounds like “Dublin, Minnesota,” and who cares that he says things to his boss, the President, that real life Secret Service agents couldn’t even say in their imaginations, he’s the best at what he does! Forget the fact that logically the U.S. President wouldn’t be at the center of two huge terrorist attacks, or the fact that all the people in positions of power from the last crisis still enjoy those jobs during this one, just be assured that when terrorists strike, Mike Banning will send them packing… To hell!
In all seriousness, London Has Fallen is a harmless, mindless actioner that’s perfect for a lazy matinee at the multiplex, and doesn’t weigh too heavily on the mind afterward. It’s bombastic, over the top, and not even that nail-biting, but there is assurance in the idea that good guys win, bad guys lose, and, as always, England prevails! The only real question is what possibly can they do for an encore? Earth Has Fallen?