Grim, mindless and aggressively nasty, London Has Fallen has little to offer apart from it's raging xenophobia and it's unabashed 'f*ck yeah America' attitude.
If the 80’s were good for one thing, it’s that they blessed/cursed us with a bevy of films wherein the main protagonist is essentially a one-man army. 2013’s Olympus Has Fallen, for all it’s faults, was at it’s heart, a love letter to these kinds of movies – with some going as far as describing it as Die Hard in the white house. Alas, it’s sequel not only repeats the already inanely stupid formula of the first instalment, it also bashes it to a bloody pulp and serves it to us on a platter.
The plot this time round follows both President Asher and his personal bodyguard Mike Banning (Aaron Eckhart and Gerard Butler) who upon hearing of the death of the British Prime Minister, travel to London along with a whole host of the World’s leaders to attend the funeral. Predictably however, terrorists intervene and cause some stuff to happen which leaves a lot of people dead.
Before people groan at me for calling out the film on it’s plot – voicing that action films are never really about the plot, it’s more about the execution – I’ll politely ask you to stuff it. Critical darling, and personally one of the best films to be released last year, Mad Max: Fury Road had a fantastic story. No, it wasn’t complex. No it wasn’t groundbreakingly fresh. It was a plot which got characters from point A to point B (and back).. However, the way that the script effortlessly wove in backstory, meaning and depth to it’s characters and their motivations was perfectly captured, both in visual execution and in the script. If we are to take that template, London Has Fallen is a bloody mess. As if it were ticking off every cliché in the book (from the main protagonist having a pregnant wife who’s expecting in a couple weeks to the heavy-handed foreshadowing of events yet to come, to the utterly terrible one-liners), it’s a massive slog of groans and eye rolls for the entire running time.
If there ever was a crutch to lean on in this situation, it would be at least padding the mind-numbing plot with some decent, inventive action. However, we get lethargic, headache-inducing, lazily shot set pieces, which reek of complacency. None more so than a terrifically terrible moment wherein the chopper carrying the president and Banning gets shot down and I kid you not, it mirrors explosions that would make you blush if you were playing on a Nintendo 64. Babak Najafi’s big-budget debut is definitely not the best introduction to Hollywood.
On a much deeper and frankly more concerning level, the film has unfortunately quite a nasty feel about it. In a world where terrorism is fast becoming one of the world’s most pressing issues, it’s awful and fuels the feelings of rampant xenophobia that has been plaguing the globe of late. There is, at no point, any nuance in the actions and motivations of the antagonists. All of them are portrayed as radical foreigners who somehow managed to ‘infiltrate’ pretty much every single part of London’s infrastructure (I can barely believe I’m writing this) and shoot all the innocent Britons and such. It goes as far as genuinely giving Gerard Butler the line ‘Why don’t you go back to F*ckheadistan..’. The astonishingly casual racism and xenophobic undertones not only leave a bad taste in the mouth, but also makes us question what passes as mindless popcorn entertainment these days; because it is clear from the execution, that the filmmakers believe we should be revelling in glee over our ‘heroes’ slaughtering these men.
Not only in it’s undertones is it nasty, it also contains violence, not unlike the first one admittedly, which is far too over-the-top, cruel and sadistic. One particular sequence involves our ‘hero’ killing one of the ‘villain’s’ sons over the radio, making him listen and then chuckling after whilst he throws away yet another one-liner. It’s moments like this which make you cringe with distaste with the direction that the film is heading in.
Another problem that this film highlights, arguably, is what in the world these are actors doing in a trainwreck like this? There’s no doubt that they read the script before signing on. Not only do the trio of Butler, Eckhart and the eternal Morgan Freeman return, the film also includes the likes of Jackie Earle Haley, Angela Basset, Melissa Leo and Colin Salmon – all of whom should know better than to get involved in a project like this, visibly sleepwalking through each and every one of their roles. This also mirrors the mindset of the viewing public, who continuously give these films their feet by making them box-office wins for the studios and filmmakers. Do everyone a favour, give this one a hard and firm miss. You’ll be thankful that you did.
London Has Fallen (2016), directed by Babak Najafi, is distributed in the UK by Lionsgate Films, Certificate 15.