I did not see this coming, but London Has Fallen proves to be the movie that shows what nuance Michael Bay can bring to his films by comparison. This generic and borderline offensive sequel to 2013’s Olympus Has Fallen is downright schlocky in the way it proposes to back up its $100 million budget with attempts at pro-American grace. Rather than be innovative, this is an action film that replaces any sense of wit and craft with a poor handling of action and an even worse sense of justice.
Gerard Butler returns in what I assume some must to as one of his iconic roles as Secret Service Agent Mike Banning. He saved President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) a few years back from terrorists (never referenced in this movie) and must now work hard to protect him again, following an attack in London, during an event that brought all the leaders of the Western world together. It is not a great spot to be in, but luckily Mike will have a chance to be a hero by navigating through all the most dimly lit areas of London fit for an action scene.
The first film was popular enough to get this sequel and I am sure the general question for those who were fans the first will arrive at the same question, “Were you expecting more?” My response is always the same, “Why shouldn’t I?” Why shouldn’t I want to get a good action film? Olympus Has Fallen is not a great movie, but there was something to relish in how it embraced its R rating and delivered a heavy amount of cutthroat violence delivered to pretty much anyone unlucky enough to be in Washington D.C. on the day over-the-top super villains from North Korea tried to take over.
This sequel is stripped down to the core of what is needed to fill in some blanks and seems to take pride in extolling plenty of xenophobic attitudes against Middle Eastern terrorists in the dark, with extreme prejudice. No, this is not necessarily the time to launch into some sort of political tirade, but given how the press screening for this film happened right around Super Tuesday, it’s hard not to relate the fans of those supporting the themes of this film to those with high hopes for certain candidates.
But how about this, let’s take away any sort of political context or whatever you consider muckraking on my part to talk about the very basics of this film. London Has Fallen starts off very traditionally. It establishes a villain (Alon Moni Aboutboul) vowing vengeance after a drone strike misses him, but kills his family (that’s about as topical as the film gets). This is followed by 20 minutes of making sure we know who matters. Butler, Eckhart and a host of great actors including Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Melissa Leo and others all show up to deliver exposition and the semblance of human personalities.
The real ‘fun’ supposedly begins once we see the terrorists wipe out a number of recognizable London landmarks, killing many innocent bystanders in the process. These guys mean business and good thing there are a lot of them, because Mike shoots and stabs about 3-5 guys in the head per minute. Sadly, the second half of the film is largely set indoors, with lots of muddy photography replacing the sweeping nature of the initial siege (poor special effects aside). Director Babak Najafi shows little promise in becoming a coherent action director we look forward to seeing more from, even after some nifty long takes that likely ate up more production time that though put into the story.
Oh no, I mentioned story again, which is likely a bad word for those inclined to see this film simply for the action and Gerard Butler. Well that is what I wanted too and fortunately Butler is up to the task of having a sense of humor to go along with his constant scowling. I’m not sure if that justifies his character’s very stabby tactics, let alone his dodgy American accent, which has somehow gotten worse over the years, but given that he’s a producer on the film, he must love having the chance to play. It is just too bad most of the action many will have come to see was shot in the dark, hacked up in the editing room and given little weight to make you feel proud of the actions taken by the heroes of the film.
If would be one thing if London Has Fallen was gleefully fulfilling as a silly action flick with a clear stance on things. 2016 actually already gave us a film better suited to the ideals of some that could still be accepted by all in the form of 13 Hours, from the aforementioned Michael Bay. That film bombed, but now you have a wildly distasteful film perplexingly directed by a Middle Eastern refugee and starring individuals delivering the kind of dialogue that almost feels like a trick.
Given how much of a joke the actual filmmaking feels like through much of London Has Fallen, it is not too much of a surprise to feel like the very nature of the film may have been one too. Sadly though, not enough of the other aspects did much to keep me entertained long enough to enjoy whatever punchline it may have tried to offer.