A sequel no one asked for delivered wonkily. Even neat chemistry and a fun climax can't save this one.
Gerard Butler storms back into action as secret service agent Mark Banning, the semi-retired John McClane-clone who saved both the president and the entire free world 3 years ago when the White House found itself under attack in Olympus Has Fallen. Now with a new enemy and a whole load of different historic buildings to destroy, Butler hopes to reignite the surprisingly fun vibe 2013’s effort somehow managed. Unfortunately for him though, no one else is trying quite as hard as he is.
The crudely titled London Has Fallen finds Banning back protecting the president (a returning Aaron Eckhart) on a hasty visit to our own nation’s capital, following the sudden death of the British Prime Minister. Unsurprisingly however, the proceedings just so happen to be hijacked by international terrorists who decimate the city and begin hunting the American leader as part of a revenge mission. With the emergency services down, Banning becomes the president’s last line of defence, as the two battle their way through the war torn capital to safety.
Okay, in all honesty, London Has Fallen really isn’t that dramatic. It might’ve been had Olympus director and all-round action master chief Antoine Fuqua remained on the project, but with him ducking out in favour of a Magnificent Seven remake, the directing responsibilities fell to newcomer Babak Najafi instead, and the resulting sequel is something of a mis-balanced and often rather tactless mess.
The first half of Najafi’s apparent ‘action romp’ finds itself so weighed down with political and emotional backstory that the entire plot shuffles along only barely. It’s an incredibly simplistic and really rather silly story, set up and told as if it’s some deadly serious, Paul Greengrass style political thriller, whilst the cheap, half-arsed gun battles and positively atrocious CGI that follows (think Syfy TV movie level bad) begs to differ. These sensationally ropey dialogue exchanges and poorly crafted action sequences drag on for far too long. But then, really rather randomly, there’s a switch, roughly half way in, which levels the playing field considerably.
I’m not talking about some sudden narrative twist that fixes all the film’s problems (that would still have been nice though). No, this is entirely on Najafi. When Butler and Eckhart are finally left to their own devices, their buddy-cop-style charm finally starts to leak through, and with Najafi doing away with much of the backstory and all of the atrocious effects, London Has Fallen actually becomes the thing it was trying for all along: fun.
It’s as if half way through shooting Najafi went back and realised what made Olympus work so well in the first place – its minimal plotting and brutal, well choreographed violence – and then promptly flipped his sequel to finally match up with it. Suddenly the camera stops cutting between terrible fake explosions and actually follows Banning and his comrades in some quite sophisticated sequences, that seem to flow really rather well.
It’s during these moments that Najafi finds the real spirit of the film: it’s a pretty brainless, incredibly bloody, cheesy old-school actioner at heart. It doesn’t need intrigue or politics; it’s a film that’s sold on the amount of bullets fired, not words said. Sadly for London, it only seems to figure this out for certain in the film’s finale, when it really needed to clue into such a mindset right from the start.
After all, it’s really difficult to be encouraging about a film that’s only half good. Especially when the other half is so garishly terrible. If Olympus was 2013’s answer to John McTiernan’s original Die Hard, this one boasts a much more Renny Harlin/Die Harder vibe, with, dare we say it, whispers of A Good Day. Here’s hoping any possible third effort follows suit and returns with a vengeance.
London Has Fallen (2016), directed by Babak Najafi, is distributed in the UK by Lionsgate. Certificate 15.