London Has Fallen

by Kilian Melloy
Friday Mar 4, 2016
Gerard Butler stars in 'London Has Fallen'
Gerard Butler stars in 'London Has Fallen'  

Thinking of dropping your hard-earned cash to see the Aaron Eckhart an Gerard Butler-starring action flick "London Has Fallen?" Don't bother. This sequel to "Olympus Has Fallen" isn't even good revenge porn; it's more like a mop-up rag for revenge porn. It's that bad.

The opening reel offers some promise, if only in the adrenaline department. After an introductory flashback to a drone strike on an arms dealer who has been staging terror attacks to drum up business, the film jumps forward two years, to the present day, when the world's leaders gather in London for a state funeral. Among them is United States President Benjamin Asher -- reassuringly white and bland, the sport of Leader of the Free World who cuts up while jogging with his right-hand Secret Service guy and regards text messages form teenage son as the highlight of his day.

The Secret Service guy in question is Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), whose job, over and above anything else, is to keep the president safe. With wife Leah (Radha Mitchell) expecting their first child, Banning has started to reconsider his priorities; he's on the verge of handing in his resignation when the ever-reliable One Last Mission syndrome comes into play: Escorting President Asher to London for the funeral, and then seeing him safely home once again. Also along for the ride is a Condoleezza Rice-type named Lynne (Angela Bassett); staying home and minding the republic while the president is away is Vice President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman).

Of course, the One Last Mission is destined to become more complicated than anyone expects. You don't have to have seen the previews to know what comes next: With a number of world leaders in one place, what better time for terrorists to strike? Hordes and hordes of terrorists, most of whom have beards and dark complexions? Terrorist so devoted to the notion of creating fear, havoc, and chaos that they are glad to die for the cause? Cue the CGI mass destruction. Within minutes, a gaggle of heads of state are dead, a significant portion of London is in ruins, and the rest of the city is in lockdown.

Banning to the rescue! Our President has survived the initial wave of attacks thanks to Banning's meticulous attention to security, not to mention his gut feeling that something's not quite right. Now it's a question of navigating the burning, terrorist-riddled streets. Banning just happens to know of an MI6 safe house; the movie becomes a video game, with Banning knifing, shooting, and stunt driving his way across the city to see his charge to security. Once they get there (and the trite twist of the MI6 babe, Jacquelyn Marshall (Charlotte Riley) is out of the way), the film opens up a little, but it's still a procession of set pieces unfolding in tight spaces.

Butler -- who also produces -- comes across as a latter-day John Wayne, breaking his swagger on occasion for buddy-buddy moments with Eckhart, unconvincingly tender exchanges with Mitchell, and less-charged-than-they-ought-to-be interactions with Bassett and Riley. His monotonous invulnerability (bullets cannot find him; nameless goons drop at his feet by the dozen) is enlivened here and there, albeit with malicious episodes of torture, but his dialogue is unrelentingly bombastic. He never resorts to anti-Arabic slurs, but you feel them hovering just off the edge of the screen.

The villains are just as shallow and stale. Head Bad Guy -- his name is Aamir Barkawi (Alon Aboutboul) -- is a vestigial presence; the work on the ground falls to his swarm of sons, a cadre of men who clearly are cast with the idea of suggesting that they are the product of their father's polygamous marriages. Barkawi sips tea, watches events unfold on his laptop, and issues the occasional threat via video chat. At times, it's like watching a James Bond film, with the elusive super-villain pulling the strings from a remote hideout (in this case, a cafe in some nameless Middle Eastern city; a cavernous lair would have been more fun) while the designated heavy trades body blows with the hero.

But the levity and flat-out fantasy that marks James Bond movies is missing here. The movie is absurd in the way a Bond flick is absurd, but deadly serious too, in a deranged and testosterone-powered way. Part of that self-seriousness takes on more than a hint of this election season's overheated, simplistic bravado. If you put any of Banning's speeches into Trump's mouth, they'd be right at home in a Republican debate or a political ad.

This is a movie designed to appeal to the worst in its audience. You can bet it will make a mint and spawn at least one more chapter, even though making two movies of this nature featuring the same characters already strains credulity. We're clearly headed for the "Die Hard" section of the dream machine's theme park, but let's not dismiss the prospect of further installments out of hand. Think of the possibilities: Banning, equipped with a Baby Bjorn or a ginormous stroller, arms cradling a machine gun along with a newborn, blasting his way through the miscreants who have laid siege to the local Gap Kids -- and just in time for the 2018 midterms. Boo-yah!

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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