A film review by Craig J. Koban March 13, 2016


2016, R, 99 mins.


Gerard Butler as Mike Banning  /  Aaron Eckhart as President Benjamin Asher  /  Radha Mitchell as Leah Banning  /  Morgan Freeman as Vice President Alan Trumbull  /  Charlotte Riley as MI6 Jacquelin Marshall  /  Angela Bassett as Lynne Jacobs  /  Melissa Leo as Secretary of Defense Ruth McMillan  /  Robert Forster as General Edward Clegg  /  Alon Aboutboul as Barkawi  /  Jackie Earle Haley as Deputy Chief Mason

Directed by Babak Najafi  /  Written by Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt, Christian Gudegast, and Chad St. John

2013’s OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN was one of the most blatantly obvious – but also one of the best – DIE HARD clones that I’ve ever seen.  It also was the finer of the two White House Invasion movies that were also released that year (sorry, WHITE HOUSE DOWN).  Watching a one-man army engage in a deadly and clandestine mission to rid the president’s home of nasty Korean terrorists had a distinctive John McClane-ian vibe to it all, and gloriously so.  To the extent that OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN was trying to emulate iconic action franchises of a bygone era, the film was a rousing and entertaining success; it’s a prime example of formulaic filmmaking riffing on existing templates done rather well.  

LONDON HAS FALLEN is the inevitable sequel to Antoine Fuqua’s bruise knuckled and blood-soaked ode to late 80’s and early 90’s actioneers, but this time around the film has shifted away from the intimate and claustrophobic interiors of the most recognized home in Washington to the streets of, yes, London.  On a positive, the film – like its predecessor – embraces and wears its inherent schlockiness like a proud badge of honor.  Filled with multiple action film clichés and conventions, multiple things (and people) going “BOOM!”, ludicrously (and sometimes ingeniously) staged chase sequences, and a ridiculously high bad guy body count, LONDON HAS FALLEN is, at times, a preposterously entertaining cartoon come to life.  Much like the action films of decades past that it’s clearly copying, the film has a simplistic, retrograde brashness that’s not seen in many genre films these days.  However, the film is indeed louder, cruder, and dumber than OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN, which doesn’t entirely make for a better film. 



Gerard Butler – so shockingly effective in the aforementioned John McClane-ian hero role in the first film – is back again as the gravel voiced, one-liner spouting, and terrorist murder-happy secret service agent Mike Banning, who's facing – gasp! – a crisis of conscience in deciding whether or not to retire – gasp! – from the service in order to help raise his unborn child with his wife (Radha Mitchell, one of the film’s many laughably underwritten female characters).  Unknown to his plans is President Asher (Aaron Eckhart), who convinces his top service man and BFF to come with him to Great Britain to attend the funeral of their recently deceased prime minister.  President Asher leaves Vice President Trumbull behind (Morgan Freeman, returning from OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN) to run the country while he’s gone, but Banning – always smelling trouble and having a habit of being (ahem!) the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time – senses something fishy about the president’s trip to London. 

Rather predictably, Banning was right.  For as inane as it appears, the funeral was one gigantically elaborate death trap perpetrated by an arms dealer/terrorist named Barkawi (Alon Aboutboul) and his son (Waleed Zuaiter), during which time nearly all of the world’s leaders from various countries are assassinated, leaving London a relative warzone.  Of course, Banning is able to secure the president and the two go on the run in the terrorist occupied streets, carefully evading capture and death at every waking moment.  Even though Banning is able to easily terminate multiple terrorist scumbags with ease, even he realizes the sheer gravity of their situation.  Getting much needed aid from a British agent (Charlotte Riley), Banning and Asher try as they can to make sense of a senseless situation, but when the president does get captured by Barkawi’s forces and, in turn, is scheduled to be executed (via a beheading) on a live online video stream, Banning must go on the full ass-kicking offensive.

LONDON HAS FALLEN doesn’t have Fuqua at the directorial helm this time...and it frequently shows.  Substituted in his place is Iranian born director Babak Najafi, and even though he doesn’t have the established pedigree of Fuqua, he nevertheless is able to acclimatize himself rather commendably to delivering the film’s template of shoot and kill first, ask questions a distant second level of bone-crunching and artery spewing mayhem.  Once that very first car bomb is triggered in the film to get the terrorist’s plan off to the races, LONDON HAS FALLEN rarely shifts into neutral.  For the most part, the film is methodically and relentlessly paced throughout, featuring scene after scene of Banning punching, kicking, stabbing, shooting and blowing up his way through an improbable number of faceless terrorist scumbags.  Fans of barbarically punishing old school violence – done with a reasonable amount of gleeful, wink-wink acknowledgment to audience members – will, no doubt, eat up LONDON HAS FALLEN.  The whole enterprise is also greatly assisted by the presence of Butler, who seems to comprehend the sheer ludicrousness of what’s transpiring around his character and simply just goes for it with a commendable level of performance commitment; he’s simply fun to watch here. 

The stakes are indeed much higher on a global level in LONDON HAS FALLEN, which does strain modest credulity upon scrutinizing Barkawi’s nefarious plans.  The Korean invasion of the White House somehow felt chillingly possible in the first film, whereas here seeing Barkawi's forces so easily and systematically disguise themselves (as emergency workers, police officers, members of the Queen’s Guard, and so forth), evade detection and then lay their hellish plans down without much opposition is kind of eye-rollingly silly (you’d also think that after the events of OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN that every country would be on ridiculous high alert and have extra security measures in place).  Most of the recognizable landmarks of London are also obliterated in balls of computer-generated fire in visual effects work that ranges from awful to middling, which really doesn’t help sell the inherent chaos to audience members.  LONDON HAS FALLEN tries to up the ante of the scale of the destruction from its prequel, but technical – and obvious budgetary – restrictions are painfully obvious to witness in the final product. 

Something needs to be said about the relatively unsavory handling of the villains in this film.  Barkawi and his band of thugs are fairly obvious ISIS clones and are dutifully painted as evil mostly because of their nationality (perplexingly, they're typified for being arms dealers and very little, if any, mention of their extremist religious ideologies is ever presented).  That, and the film’s screenplay – the product of four writers – never once seems to compellingly engage in the motives of these terrorists, which are mostly born out of America’s unsuccessful assassination attempt of Barkawi (Asher authorized a drone strike, which failed to get the intended deed done and instead killed many people at a Pakistani wedding).  LONDON HAS FALLEN is egregiously simplistic – if not more than a bit potentially offensive – with its black and white portrayal of villainy and heroism, not to mention that it goes out of its way to show the xenophobic leanings of its main American hero.  At one point Banning screams at his terrorist prey to “go back to Fuckheadistan.”  Audiences jubilantly cheered during this moment, whereas I uncomfortably sunk down in my theater chair in shame.  

I’m not sure whether I really should recommend LONDON HAS FALLEN.  If you loved the first entry in this series then you’ll certainly find sporadic enjoyment this sequel.  Najafi does frame some of the individual action sequences with a real pulse pounding efficiency (a late scene involving Banning storming through a street and into the terrorist stronghold – done with what appears to be a long, unbroken take – is quite exhilarating to behold).  Deep down, I understood the type of action film LONDON HAS FALLEN was trying to be, which means that criticizing it for its inherent B-grade action genre eccentricities is ultimately a fool’s errand.  At 90 minutes, the film is also mercifully brief and never overstays its welcome.  The film is in small bite-sized portions tasty cinematic junk food.  Yet, should you pay upwards of $12 for a piece Big Mac action cinema like this?  I’m just not altogether sure, especially after OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN did everything that it needed to do – and better – than this sequel. 

  H O M E