Should I Watch..? 'London Has Fallen'
What's the big deal?
London Has Fallen is an action thriller film released in 2016 and is the sequel to the 2013 film Olympus Has Fallen. Directed by Babak Najafi, the film sees a major terrorist attack on the city of London and the efforts of the US President and his personal protection officer to escape the chaos. The film stars co-producer Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Alon Abutbul and Jackie Earle Haley. The film was heavily criticised upon release for its supposed Islamophobic narrative, cliched action sequences and general insensitivity to the families of victims caught up in actual terrorist incidents in London and elsewhere. However, the film still ended up earning just shy of $206 million globally which meant that a third film in the series - Angel Has Fallen - would be produced and eventually released in 2019.
What's it about?
Six years after rescuing the President from a terrorist attack on the White House, life has gotten pretty comfortable for Secret Service agent Mike Banning. His wife Leah is heavily pregnant and his long-standing friendship with President Benjamin Asher has been restored, to the point where Banning is now part of the President's personal protection force. In fact, Banning is considering resigning his post to spend more time with his growing family but the unexpected death of the British Prime Minister changes things. With Asher determined to attend the funeral in London, Secret Service Director Lynne Jacobs asks Banning to accompany the President.
With the UK capital beefing up security, the world's leaders arrive in London for the funeral at St Paul's Cathedral. However, a series of attacks across the capital cripple the security forces as well as assassinating a number of heads of state. Mercenaries hired by notorious arms dealer and terrorist mastermind Aamir Barkawi attack several sites and assassinate a number of heads of state as well as attempting to kill President Asher. Barely escaping the carnage, Banning attempts to lead the President to safety but the terrorists always seem one step ahead...
Secret Service Agent Mike Banning
President Benjamin Asher
Vice President Allan Trumbull
Secret Service Director Lynne Jacobs
US Army General Edward Clegg
Jackie Earle Haley
White House Deputy Chief Of Staff DC Mason
Secretary Of Defence Ruth McMillan
MI6 Agent Jacquelin Marshall
Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt, Christian Gudegast & Chad St John*
Release Date (UK)
3rd March, 2016
Razzie Award Nominations
Worst Actor (Butler)
What's to like?
It's as if The Matrix never happened. London Has Fallen is such a bone-headed throwback to the action movies of yore that I'm amazed Butler didn't spend the last third of the film in ripped trousers, tatted shirt and a bandolier. Like its predecessor, the film depicts plenty of cinematic violence in recognisable locations and also pushes the boundaries in testing things like logic and physics. The story keeps things simple in story-terms so there's isn't much to disturb the near-constant string of shootings, bombings and stabbings. The film doesn't offer much we haven't seen before in its many action sequences but director Najafi displays a competence behind the camera, often bringing us closer to the action or battling alongside Banning in long takes. I have to credit him for trying something a little different.
Butler brings a genuine sense of menace to the film as Banning who appears to have little moral compass to guide him through the havoc. Naturally, this means that very little is off limits for this particular action hero who feels the most accurate cinematic portrayal of Marvel's The Punisher we've seen so far. Unlike the po-faced Olympus, Butler even manages to squeeze some humour in during banter with Eckhart. But frankly, the film works best as just a series of action scenes linked up by a number of plot expositions. I will confess that as a spectacle, I enjoyed this film more than its original which I struggled to take seriously. However, do not take that as a ringing endorsement because London Has Fallen still has a worrying number of flaws.
- The scene set at Stansted Airport was actually shot at Dunsfold Aerodrome in Surrey, which has been the site of the Top Gear TV series since 2002. The plane used as Air Force One is also the same plane grounded at Dunsfold and is often seen in the background of several sections of the programme. You can even see several tyre marks on the runway left by the programme.
- Freeman has openly admitted that the only reason he did this film was for the money, the same reason he agreed to do the first film.
- A caption states that Stansted is twenty miles north of London but in real life, it's actually forty-two miles north-east of the capital. However, Stansted is where Air Force One would land. Until 2008, it landed at Heathrow but the considerable disruption it caused necessitated a change.
What's not to like?
Even if the film were perfect (and trust me, it's far from perfect), it is such an orgy of violence and bloodshed that it seems particularly insensitive to set it in a city which has already witnessed a number of terrorist incidents in the last decade alone. We've become used to seeing police scramble across London in an effort to protect its citizens. We respect our police force these days but the film instead depicts them as incompetent, understaffed, underfunded and easily infiltrated by countless terrorists armed to the teeth. Suffice to say, London Has Fallen is tone-deaf to its UK audience.
But as I say, this is far from perfect by any yardstick. Narratively, the film is all over the place with improbable sequences and a loose understanding of logic. For example, I suspect that the world-renowned SAS - famous masters of subterfuge and secrecy - would not charge at a target en masse down a narrow alley into a hail of gunfire, even if Banning doesn't need night-vision goggles to see where the baddies are. The film is stuffed to the gills with cliche and it doesn't give a damn but even worse, it seems to revel in its blatant Islamophobia as well as parodying the worst excesses of US foreign policy. When Banning tells one of the baddies to go back to "F***headistan", it almost feels as though the movie is making little effort to hide its racism and even glorify it. It leaves a sour taste in the mouth.
Speaking of which, Butler's role has undergone a radical transformation of itself. Instead of the no-nonsense hero he was in the first film, he feels like a genuinely nasty piece of work in this film. It makes it difficult to root for him although the film's ending is rarely in doubt. Even President Asher looks appalled at times - after Banning tortures a terrorist so his brother can hear his screams through a radio, Asher asks if that was necessary. Naturally, Banning says no so it's either because he thinks it will make him look like a bad-ass or because he's a psychopath who happens to be on the side of the good guys. Either way, this isn't the kind of hero I expect from my action movies.
Should I watch it?
Not really. There are plenty of action movies which offer more thrills, spills, excitement and originality than London Has Fallen which feels like a ridiculous action throwback from the early Nineties - even the CG feels outdated and laughable. Like its predecessor, the film only really serves those who enjoy cinematic destruction for the sheer sake of it as it doesn't really offer much in the way of story, performance or spectacle. If you like your action films to wear their Republican heart on their sleeve then this will suit you down to the ground.
Great For: Republicans, racist militia members, low standards
Not So Great For: members of the Metropolitan police force, discerning action movie fans, anyone with at least half a brain
What else should I watch?
Frankly, it's a little worrying when the first film London Has Fallen reminded me of was the equally awkward Rambo III which saw Stallone battle topless once again against numerous Soviet troops in Afghanistan. With all the timing of a clay pigeon being released, the film was quickly overtaken by real-world events and exposed as the brainless bloodbath it actually is. As for the other entries in the stupidly-named ...Has Fallen franchise, Olympus Has Fallen is a ridiculously over-the-top action film that sees Butler rampage through the Oval Office and elsewhere as the alpha-male rescuer of the President. It's certainly less fun than its identical twin White House Down. As for the recent Angel Has Fallen, my enthusiasm to watch it has somewhat diminished after this film but it is worth noting that it appears to have a slightly less negative response from critics. Then again, so does the coronavirus.
Among the better action movies out recently, I'd advise you to check out the moody John Wick series which sees Keanu Reeves return to action movies after his Matrix heyday as a traumatised hitman unleashing his vengeance on a number of gangland bosses in New York. Directed by former stuntman Chad Stahelski, all three films so far are not just hyper-stylish and brutally hard-hitting but also a celebration of action movies as a whole with a number of cinematic influences easily apparent to most viewers. In fact, John Wick: Chapter 2 is even better as it expands the setting and world of the first film while still displaying a faultless grasp of what makes an action scene great. Compared to this film, the John Wick movies are years ahead in terms of quality.
© 2020 Benjamin Cox