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[Review] ‘London Has Fallen’ Is A Jingoistic Knife To The Jugular

Warning: Some spoilers might follow.

News Anchor: “It appears that 5 or more of London’s most recognizable landmarks have been destroyed.”

If the first film, Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen, didn’t clue you in to exactly what you would be getting here, the above line certainly should.  This isn’t meant to be some deep meditation on the state of our terrorist-fearing present existence or a musing on our drone strike/surveillance-filled world.  Sure, there might be nods to such things on occasion throughout, but the only real purpose here is to see things explode and Gerard Butler get stabby with baddies.  If that isn’t your cup of tea, I honestly wonder why you’d even bother watching it.

So how does it stack up in those terms?  Pretty well.  It’s not as much of a tongue-in-cheek throwback as the first one, which was pretty much a modern day Cannon film.  The trashy, greasy cheeseburger to White House Down‘s sirloin steak back in 2013.  Surprising many, including myself, Olympus Has Fallen trounced Roland Emmerich’s Channing Tatum/Jamie Foxx-starring spectacle and now three years later, we have London Has Fallen.

Also surprising is that many of the talent has returned.  We have a new director in the form of Swedish filmmaker Babak Najafi (Easy Money II: Hard to Kill, “Banshee“) and he’s certainly a capable one.  Our illustrious writers Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benedikt (Olympus Has Fallen, The Expendables 3) are back, along with newcomers Christian Gudegast (A Man Apart) and Chad St. John (The Punisher: Dirty Laundry).

Acting wise, we of course have Gerard Butler back as the man made of “bourbon & bad choices”, Secret Service agent Mike Banning.  Aaron Eckhart returns as President Benjamin Asher and Morgan Freeman is back as Vice President Allan Trumbull.  You’d think the returnees would stop there, but you’d be wrong.  We also have Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Melissa Leo, and Radha Mitchell reprising their Olympus roles as well.  Much like the Under Siege duology before it, the whole war room gang is back!

London Has Fallen also adds Colin Salmon and Jackie Earle Haley in similar positions of power.  No, neither of them is a traitor.  Don’t bother spending the running time expecting someone famous, be they new or returning, to turn heel.  It’s not that kind of movie.  More than anything, it’s actually a fairly straightforward buddy action flick.

The plot is simple: in retaliation for a failed assassination attempt two years earlier, Pakistani terrorist leader Aamir Barkawi (Alon Mono Aboutboul) has devised a foolproof plan to dispose of the world’s leaders.  After years of planning, the Prime Minster of Great Britain has been quietly assassinated, with the world at large thinking he died of a heart attack.  Dignitaries and leaders from around the globe gather in London for his funeral, at which point they are targeted and virtually all of them are assassinated.  From the Canadian Prime Minister to the leaders of France, Japan, Germany, etc.  All are wiped out.

Naturally President Asher escapes, because he has bulletproof superman Mike Banning at his side. After a few failed attempts to escape the city, they roam about merry old London as Mike executes terrorists in increasingly (and many times unnecessarily) gruesome ways.  Asher, playing the audience (and possibly reviewer) surrogate, constantly comments on Banning’s offcolor humor and gleefully sociopathic tendencies.

If Olympus Has Fallen is an unapologetic throwback to ’80s Cannon films, London Has Fallen is a modern action movie where the lead happens to be an old school Cannon hero, forcing his tagalong to react in disgust at his horribly inappropriate behavior.  If that sounds like it might get annoying, I promise you it never does.  Eckhart knows how to sell every such moment and he has a nice onscreen camaraderie with Butler.  They are peas in a pod when it comes to visibly enjoying themselves, with Butler playing the winking throwback one-liner machination and Eckhart as the grim, gruff modern hero.

Instead of slaughtering countless North Koreans and American traitors, this time we get to see Banning shoot, stab, explode, and smash his way through hordes of Middle Easterners and British traitors.  Pakistan might be the source of the attack, but going off of random lines of dialogue in the film, to quote “it’s a United Nations of people who fucking hate us”.  A throwaway line meant to brush off the fact that many of the assailants hail from different ethnic backgrounds, no doubt.

This is also a decidedly male-centric action film.  Sure we have Angela Bassett and Radha Mitchell in there, but neither gets all that much screentime.  This holds true in particular for the latter, who is sadly relegated to playing the “pregnant wife at home worried about her stab-happy man” trope this time out.  If we get a third film, I’d like to see her have more to do.  We all know Mitchell can handle it, so let her have agency and get in on the fun.

The second half of the film gives us an action-ready heroine in the form of MI6’s Jacquelin Marshall (Charlotte Riley), but sadly it is a tease that goes unfulfilled.  Introduced right before another big action sequence, she is unfortunately shuffled off to spend the rest of the film in the MI6 base of operations, where she mostly just stands around spouting off expository dialogue.  When she finally does get to fire a gun, it’s too little, too late.  Perhaps we can get a female equal to form the other half of a buddy team with Banning, should we get a third film?  Let the ladies have some fun too, guys!

Is this film offensive?  Absolutely and in a number of ways.  For better or worse, it is unapologetic and quite upfront about its off-color nature.  It knows exactly what kind of movie it is and even comments on that from time to time, courtesy of Eckhart’s aforementioned commentary throughout.  Assuming this series continues (and odds are it will), I’ll be curious to see if they adjust their story based on reviews and fan reactions once more, as they clearly did here to an extent.

London Has Fallen is yet another modern Cannon film from the studio closest in style and output to Cannon these days: Millennium Films.  In place of Chuck Norris, we get a stab-happy Gerard Butler.  It’s not quite as good as its predecessor, but if you are looking for an entertaining action film that’s a bit more old school in nature, you’re going to get what you paid for.  I’ve said it at least once already, but it’s worth repeating: you already know whether or not this film is for you.  Act accordingly this weekend.

Bloody hell indeed…

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