London Has Fallen
Directed by Babak Najafi
(3rd March 2016 UK / 4th March 2016 US – Millennium Films, Gerard Butler Alan Siegel Entertainment [G-BASE], LHF Film)
Written by Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt, Christian Gudegast & Chad St. John
Starring: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo, Jackie Earl Haley, Angela Bassett, Colin Salmon, Robert Forster, Waleed Zuaiter, & Alon Aboutboul
Synopsis: In London for the Prime Minister’s funeral, Mike Banning discovers a plot to assassinate all the attending world leaders.
Twin films are a bizarre, unwritten custom in Hollywood; when two competing blockbusters are created around the same subject matter, at the same time. In years past they have ranged from asteroid attacks (Armageddon, Deep Impact), to period set magician tales (The Prestige, The Illusionist), to animated penguin stories (Happy Feet, Surf’s Up), to subterranean horror experiences (The Descent, The Cave), and whichever film releases first (regardless of its inherent quality) tends to damage the other at the box office. In 2013, the concept was presidential, featuring terrorists attacking America at its political core, the White House, and giving hosts of conservative media outlets more fear mongering fuel to add to their patriotism fueled fires.
Olympus Has Fallen came first, and so unsurprisingly won the box office battle, but it was undeniably the weaker of the two films; wanting to dress itself in the classic Sylvester Stallone/Arnold Schwarzenegger-led action movie tropes of old, but being unable to capture the tonality that made those films so successful. Roland Emmerich‘s White House Down, on the other hand, was lighter, funnier, and willing to recognise exactly what it was. Naturally, because the former made more money, it didn’t take long for a sequel to be greenlit.
But it has taken longer than usual for it to come around. London Has Fallen was originally scheduled for an October 2015 release date, where it was presciently switched to its current date, gratefully being nowhere to be seen as the tragic Paris attacks occurred last November. However, that doesn’t stop London Has Fallen looking like the most rushed and cheaply made, three year-long, $100 million production to occur in a long time, with certain scenes of CGI spectacle looking woefully amateurish in comparison to films with half its budget. In fact, one particular green screen bridge bombing is so bereft in quality that it looks like it has been airlifted in from an Asylum production.
In fact, to call London Has Fallen a sequel is a technical truth, but one that is completely overshadowed by a distinct lack of connective tissue. While the central characters were nothing other than raging stereotypical mouthpieces, they’ve literally started from scratch here, using early scenes to set up the characters in the broadest and most unimaginative strokes possible. President Benjamin Acker (what happened to your career Aaron Eckhart?) only speaks in vaguely inspirational platitudes, while Mike Banning (a constantly grimacing, growling, charmless Gerard Butler) is a secret service superhero that only knows how to be paranoid, brutal, and unemotional – all traits that the average jingoistic American loves and admires.
Narratively, it’s identical except on a larger scale, and in an “exotic” location i.e. a city with lots of famous landmarks to blow up, that you don’t see get annihilated as often as American monuments. Why bother exploding the White House again when you can just obliterate St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Thames estuary, The Houses Of Parliament, the London Eye etc.? Unfortunately, it’s clearly not filmed in London, and anyone who has even a cursory knowledge of the city’s layout will be baffled and bemused by the large number of screaming geographical inaccuracies. It’s certainly true that the film’s hunger for carnage is insatiable, it’s just a shame that the film’s four (rarely a good sign) screenwriters failed to conjure up any unique setpieces to go along with it. Instead, the entire affair feels like a paint by numbers exercise, a hodgepodge of outdated action movie cliches crudely stapled together and forced to venture into the world alone. It’s such a cynical endeavour that you can literally see the machinery of the production (and everyone involved), just going through the motions.
Israeli-born Swedish director Babak Najafi takes over from Antoine Fuqua (who thought the script wasn’t up to snuff), behind the camera and makes a valiant but dismal effort. All of the film’s structural problems would be forgiveable if the action delivers in pulse-pounding and creative ways, but it doesn’t. At all. The action sequences, the film’s supposed saving grace, are certainly chaotic and somewhat intense, but they are so un-intuitively shot and messy that it’s almost impossible to discern what’s happening. What’s more, the idea is so preposterous (literally hundreds of terrorists infiltrating every single layer of British security forces including half of the London metropolitan police and Buckingham Palace guard) and patently stupid that the film’s attitude is essentially “Fuck everyone who isn’t American and subsequently awesome”. You could argue that a film that claims to be a dumb action movie isn’t interested in making a political statement, but then it should have picked a kinetic style that is more suitable for the genre it’s trying to emulate, because as it stands its a jingoistic power trip shot as an intense “war is hell” style film. In fairness, this approach does culminate in a climatic action sequence that is extremely intense and all handled in a long tracking shot (bolstered with some CGI trickery), featuring an impressive array of moving parts and personnel filling the screen. It’s a shame then that, as with the rest of the film, it’s shot so dark, so as to make the fights indeterminable and frustrating.
Let’s be clear: London Has Fallen is a morally bankrupt and politically tone-deaf film that groups the West as a force of “pure” and “good”, and the forces of a vague middle eastern country “bad” and “evil”. At one point Butler grabs a random terrorist and growls “go back to Fuckhead-istan!” before brutally (and unnecessarily) murdering him. Butler thrusts as much xenophobia into the air through his asinine words as he does violently stab, shoot, and break various middle eastern stereotypes over the course of 90 minutes. He even mercilessly murders a screaming young man so his brother can hear, just to get to him, he then immediately admits that he didn’t have to do that, with a boyish grin on his face and a glint in his eye as if to say “but gee wasn’t it fun?!” And yet this is the person we’re supposed to root for?
Butler’s secret service neanderthal is clearly meant to be a throwback to the machismo buff heroes of old – John Rambo, John Matrix, Dutch etc. but those central figures, in all their ridiculousness, were actually likeable and somewhat relatable, despite being larger than life. They each had things that grounded them, whether it be love for a family member, or your brothers in arms, or even suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, so despite being relatively farcical and pulling off insane stunts in some cases, they were sympathetic, and you wanted them to win. Sure, Butler has a heavily pregnant wife, their first child is due in just a couple of weeks, and he’s considering resigning as a result (that old chestnut), but it never feels remotely authentic or interesting. The presence (or lack thereof) of a family element feels more like ticking boxes on a cynical checklist than it does actually enhancing character. The script also tries to give him a number of “cool lines” (until they give up and just steal other character’s classic lines like “Get to the chopper!” and “I’ll be back”), often peppered with even “cooler” swear words, overusing the word “fuck” in ways that are both inauthentic and infantile, like a child who has just discovered the word and become fascinated by it. The fact that it took four Hollywood writers to come up with the moment when, after killing a bunch of nasty brown men, Butler whips out a glass of water and takes a sip before exclaiming loudly “I’m thirsty as FUCK!” William Shakespeare, it ain’t.
The rest of the supporting cast don’t fare any better. Morgan Freeman appears as Vice President
Morgan Freeman Trumbull, who often feels so disconnected from the actual events of the film that all of his scenes are absolutely superfluous. Oscar Winner Melissa Leo appears as the Secretary Of State, with her face permanently frozen in a look of abject horror and confusion – like she’d just remembered she’d left the front door unlocked and was busy visualising the thousands of possible travesties that were currently taking place in her home – but completely divorced from the events of the film. Jackie Earle Haley turns up for a paycheque, and Robert Forster plays the exact same General character he’s played in fifty (better) movies. In fact, he was likely already on the set when they arrived and they just decided to roll with it. These scenes in the war room, and their British counterparts are, in a word, pointless. Not only are they disruptive to the film’s no-nonsense pacing, but they literally offer nothing in the way of notable assistance to Butler and Eckhart’s plight, meaning we have to take a break from the action to watch a bunch of actors figure out what we’ve already witnessed.
Ultimately London Has Fallen is a largely irredeemable excuse for an action movie blockbuster. Offensively unintelligent, woefully cheap looking, and diabolically written, even its uninterested but starry cast can’t save it from itself. It’s painfully generic, asinine, and you can predict the entire plot from the start, down to the identity of the inevitable traitor in their midst (clue: he’s the guy that looks like an anthropomorphic flaccid penis aka Weasel McWeaslington). Ironically, in a film meant to glorify patriotic bullshit, the terrorists are the only characters that come away feeling sympathetic, and the film’s final message of “see, this is why we have to bomb the Middle East to pieces, and we should actually do it a lot more!” is not only dangerous but despicable. One can suppose that the creators of London Has Fallen can feel proud that they’ve managed to make Donald Trump‘s ideal movie; a film that makes Michael Bay look like a Renaissance man, but for the rest of us you’re better off just going to see Deadpool for the fifth time.