An almost insensitive America-beats-all action flick.
London Has Fallen
Amidst a busy week of caucuses and Presidential debates, America receives another blunt force reminder that lest we ever lose sight of our god-given kick-assness there will always be an action film depicting our sheer superhuman patriotic determination to take down all terrorists who threaten us.
This reminder comes in the form of London Has Fallen, the fast-paced follow-up to 2013’s Olympus Has Fallen. Though, while the inclination of action films isn’t necessarily toward truthfulness—and moviegoers’ patriotism not to be taken for granted—London Has Fallen puts American exceptionalism on so high a pedestal it’s practically the stuff of fairy tales. Audiences looking for explosions and quippy wisecracks won’t be let down, but this film will not be winning us points with our allies anytime soon. As a depiction of not only how two Americans (one of them the President) can take on a major terrorist cell, but how much more competently they do it without the help of the government officials of the country they are located in, London Has Fallen is a cartoonish action flick cashing in on the attachments its characters built in the previous film and layering on American bravado at the expense of all other nations.
Directed by Babak Najafi, an Iranian-Swedish filmmaker without much to his name, the film starts at a large wedding party in Pakistan. We meet Aamir Barkawi (Alon Moni Aboutboul), an arms dealer who advises his eldest son, who has recently offed one of their competitors, not to forget to take out their enemy’s family as well. Clearly this guy holds grudges. Next minute a drone attacks the wedding. Two years later, back in America, President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) is two years into his second term and now very close with his Head Secret Service Agent, Mike Banning (Gerard Butler doing his best to stifle that Scottish accent), who saved his ass in the last film. Mike’s expecting a baby with wife Leah (Rhada Mitchell) and contemplating his retirement.
The unexpected death of the British Prime Minister urges the President to quickly fly off to London to attend the funeral. Banning and Secret Service Director Lynne Jacobs (Angela Bassett reprising her role) don’t like the unknowns involved in last-minute travel, but Banning’s the best of the best, and he accompanies the President to the UK. Those who’ve seen the last film (or even the trailer) will easily guess where the story heads. Barkawi has picked his moment to exact revenge for the drone attack that killed his daughter. One by one he picks off the world’s leaders as they arrive in London, destroying much of the city’s historical landmarks in the process.
His minions appear from the crowds in such high numbers it would indicate almost no one seen thus far in London is actually a citizen. The police aren’t who they seem. Motorcyclists emerge to chase down the President as Mike rushes him back to the helicopter. They aren’t in the helicopters long when missiles down them. The death toll and destruction is close to comic-book movie status. As London goes on lockdown, Mike and President Asher make their way through the streets—Mike’s apparent built-in GPS guiding them—eventually connecting with an MI6 agent Jacquelin (Charlotte Riley) who suspects a mole (there’s always a mole). Banning and President Asher continue to defeat the odds for the rest of the film.
Butler and Eckhart do have a sort of chemistry, the kind I imagine frat boys everywhere have, and watching them run around together keeps up the energy of the film. Butler’s double chin might indicate his skill-levels in sleep deprived continuous fighting shouldn’t quite be what they are in the film, but his extreme kills hold a certain satisfaction that allows one to forgive his appearance.
The film’s real faults are unsurprising. In a world where terrorism is so very real, one might think Hollywood would veer away from the hyperbolic terrorism oft depicted in action films. Whereas fairy tales use unrealistic monsters to make everyday life seem safer, these sorts of action films are starting to feel almost insensitive to the realities of the world. Barkawi is possibly the most successful terrorist ever, his recruitment efforts being apparently so amazing there is never a corner Banning runs around where he isn’t met with a ceaseless mass of terrorist drones attacking him.
Like in the first film, at one point Mike yells out “RPG,” which for the uninitiated stands for “rocket propelled grenade,” though for this weapons-illiterate viewer I’d just have soon thought he was proclaiming his entrance into a “role playing game.” The camera follows like a first-person shooter for much of the action, bullets whizzing by, explosions happening casually.
The British government and intelligence are depicted as barely capable, not only being completely oblivious beforehand that an attack is being planned, but consistently being told by the American government officials back in the U.S. what the sitch is. And as much as EVERYONE likes to see Morgan Freeman in governmental positions (here he’s now the Vice President), the whole suits-in-the-situation-room film tactic for solving major global crises just doesn’t hold up anymore.
Many could find themselves enjoying London Has Fallen, but one has to wonder if they should. By taking out other world leaders, Barkawi insinuates they are the U.S.’s “family,” a fair depiction of U.S. allies, but the casualness with which they are killed and the disrespect paid to Britain plays into an oft-used tone for action films: America is the best. Just as Mike Banning asks his MI6 friend at one point in the film about civilian losses and she remarks they are unfortunately high, as though she’s remarking on a price increase on her favorite shampoo, so is it impossible to have any real feeling for the film or its outcome. There’s nothing less patriotic than desensitizing terrorism and in an age of globalization, London Has Fallen feels stale and outdated.