REVIEW: ‘London Has Fallen’ is a self-important, illogical grind


Imagine a movie where an agent from the Secret Service goes rogue. He runs around a city, armed to the teeth, using his considerable skills to brutally murder dozens of people. Sometimes, if one of his targets isn’t given a mercifully quick death (signalled by a burst of bullets and a PG-13 spurt of blood in the head or chest area), the agent will appear to take pleasure in dispatching his prey with a flurry of knife wounds or a sharp twist of a poor sap’s neck.

It becomes clear after twenty minutes of this that the agent is almost completely unhinged. For all we know, what we’re seeing is just some violent delusion – while the agent thinks he’s protecting people, maybe he’s actually perpetrating a horrific crime. What if the faceless militants he’s mowing down are actually innocent people? The audience has to sort out what is real and what isn’t, and how we got to this place after the events of the movie’s predecessor, the otherwise straightforward Olympus Has Fallen.

If you’re wondering why the hypothetical film I just described has so much detail, it’s because I was just that bored during the screening of the real sequel to Olympus Has Fallen, a cheap-looking, joyless affair called London Has Fallen. To me, it was far more entertaining to pretend that the Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) was living out some blood-soaked hallucination than it was to take Babak Najafi’s film at face value. After all, the best Najafi and his four-person screenwriting team can conjure up is 5 minutes’ worth of half-hearted exchanges of banter between Banning and the President he’s protecting (Aaron Eckhart). As for the other 90 minutes? Well, let's get into it, shall we?

Witness two Oscar winners Melissa Leo and Morgan Freeman being criminally underused.

How did Banning come to be dashing around London as the living embodiment of the War on Terror? When we last saw him in the original film directed by Antoine Fuqua, the threat was an army of North Korean commandos who seemed altogether too well-prepared than anything the real Hermit Kingdom could muster. Nevertheless, they took down the White House, kidnapped the President and took control of some nukes, all before Banning and his implausibly bulletproof body brought it to an end.

Now, the Americans find themselves attending a funeral for the British prime minister in London, only to be set upon by another dubiously large and well-equipped force, this time a crowd of cliché fighters from (your guess is as good as mine) a collection of Middle Eastern states. Five or six world leaders are assassinated in an attempt at shock value, and Banning is forced to run and gun his way through the streets with the President in tow.

There’s some business about an arms dealer (Alon Abutbul) organizing the whole thing as revenge for a drone strike. But inexplicably for a major villain, the guy appears in maybe five scenes, so it all feels remarkably tired for an enemy meant to have some political edge.

Making everything worse is a pervasive feeling of self-importance. It starts in the opening scenes, where even innocuous establishing sequences see the characters trading dialogue as if lives were already at stake. It’s as though everyone was able to take a peek at the third act of the film, whereupon they decided, “Well, things are going south pretty fast, so we better get a head start on looking grim and treating every line like a death sentence.” It’s perhaps the most unintentionally funny in the scenes at Banning’s home; rarely do conversations with your wife about baby monitors seem fraught with mortal peril.

Cool, blow up some landmarks like Westminster Abbey. Shocking!

Once the terrorists finally make their entrance, London Has Fallen ends up resembling almost every low-to-middle-tier actioner ever made. Worse still, its action scenes have so little respect for the basic laws of cause and effect that the film seemed to be encouraging me to believe in the “Mike Banning psycho dream” theory. At times, I wanted to draw up a chart to try to document the broken logic in the fight scenes (Stinger missiles on every rooftop!) or the silly decisions made by the characters (let’s drive right where we know the enemy is expecting us!). But I suspected that engaging with the film on that level would just make me stupider.

As a final indignity, London Has Fallen manages to waste an impressive supporting cast that (still) includes Melissa Leo, Morgan Freeman and Robert Forster. Najafi stations all three in the Situation Room and makes them look up at video screens in various states of disbelief. They don’t even get to argue with each other, like in the previous film! As the film ends, the camera pulls back on the assembled officials and we see Freeman dead centre, hands over his face, his feelings ambiguous. I like to think we’re seeing Freeman allowing his real opinion of the film to bubble through; we’re not seeing relief, but shock that his easy paycheck will be associated with such a dreadful piece of work.

With action movies like these, every viewer would be well within their rights to take the risk and hope the film will at least present itself as a mildly diverting trifle. Not so with London Has Fallen: it actively seeks to grind you down with genre tropes and make you think jokes about the President “coming out of the closet” to explode a terrorist’s head are funny. Or that Gerard Butler can sound like an American. I mean, poorly-executed patriotic foolishness is one thing, but asking me to believe that barely hidden Scottish accents are prevalent in the Secret Service? Now you’re going too far.

London Has Fallen gets one star out of four.

One Star

Have you seen this film? If so, what did you think? Was a simple distraction, or was it just as boring as I found it? Join the discussion in the comments section, and if you liked this review, share it with your friends and followers!