Film Review: London Has Fallen

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Maybe we deserve London Has Fallen.

Maybe this is our fault.

The next installment in the Has Fallen series attempts the seemingly impossible task, like Speed 2 and Taken 2 before it, of creating a sequel for a successful action movie that hinges on the main character being stuck in the middle on an incredibly unlikely situation…again. Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is forced to protect the life of President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) after an international terrorist (Alon Aboutboul) assassinates pretty much every other world leader during a state funeral in London.

If you’re anything like me, you remember Olympus Has Fallen as the movie your friend told you was “the better one of those two nearly identical Die Hard in the White House movies that came out within a month or two of each other.” You don’t need much more information for the sequel. To London‘s credit, it could be a standalone film.

Gerard Butler plays an action hero in this movie. That’s it. He is American Secret Service Agent Banning who spends half of his time being the Punisher and the other half hiding his Scottish accent. His single character trait is that he has a baby on the way and probably shouldn’t be getting himself killed before it is born. If that sounds similar it is because that baby thing could pretty much describe Paul Walker’s character Brian in the most recent Fast and Furious film and while Furious 7 spends the movie asking whether or not Brian should stay in the game at all and even examines if he even wants to leave, London Has Fallen knows better than to challenge the audience and Banning’s choice is barely mentioned.

Still of Gerard Butler in London Has Fallen (2016)
Still of Gerard Butler in London Has Fallen (2016)

People, on the internet mostly, spent a lot of time this winter arguing over whether Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens was or wasn’t a Mary Sue; a character who is so perfect that the stakes of the film are meaningless because nothing could possibly stop them. And thank god they did, because now that I understand the term I can unequivocally say that every character in this movie besides the villains is a Mary Sue. Agent Banning is a Mary Sue. President Asher is a Mary Sue. The MI6 agent they meet in the safehouse is a Mary Sue. They are all Mary Sues. They are all filled with honor and essentially invincible. The only thing that can get in their way is being blindsighted by a dump truck. That’s it. Everything else is a minor annoyance.

At one point, Agent Banning and the President are in a building. The building is going to explode. They both know this. The gas line starts to burst into a wall of fire and we see both of them outrun the fire, which none of the bad guys can outrun, and make their way to safety INSIDE OF THE EXPLODING BUILDING. The building then explodes. It is a huge explosion. Pieces of the building are everywhere. They both survive but not because Banning thought of a clever place to hide or managed to find a secret way out. They just used their Mary Sue-ness to will themselves through the explosion and everything was fine.

Some other mildly interesting side characters are introduced in the first twenty minutes of London. We are introduced briefly to the other foreign dignitaries that attended the funeral. They all have a small but present amount of personality. One is nice to a small child. One doesn’t really want to be there. One is trying to get some from his mistress. They seem like fun characters that we may have to work with to get out of London alive. Turns out, they all are all just immediately killed. Most are exploded. One drowns. One is gunned down by Buckingham Palace guards, for a reason that London doesn’t even kind of explain besides the obvious revelation that one cowardly person in the government was working with the terrorists. Any opportunities for London to separate itself from other similar action movies by utilizing the state funeral that the plot is based around are squandered.

Oh by the way, Morgan Freeman is also in this movie. He plays the Vice President. All of his scenes take place in one room and he does nothing of any importance whatsoever. At one point he passes Agent Manning in a hallway and they have a brief conversation about fishing or something. I have no doubt that they did not film that scene together and instead filmed it on two different days because neither actor could be bothered to move their schedule around to accommodate the others. This should surprise no one as Gerard Butler has four movies scheduled to release this year including last week’s Gods of Egypt and Morgan Freeman has a staggering five as well as a TV series.

And maybe you’re saying to yourself, “Actors don’t need to be in the same room to film every scene. You can do wonders with editing and CGI. It’s a purely financial decision.” To be honest, I agree with you. The actors really didn’t need to be in the same room while filming London Has Fallen because the difference in the performances would barely be noticeable. The script is just that standard. Exchanges like “What do they make you out of?” “Bourbon and bad choices” could come from two completely different boilerplate action movies and you would never be able to tell.

Still of Aaron Eckhart and Gerard Butler in London Has Fallen (2016)
Still of Aaron Eckhart and Gerard Butler in London Has Fallen (2016)

Not to say the leads didn’t have chemistry. How could they not? They were essentially the same character. One was a tough as nails member of the President’s security detail. The other was the tough as nails President. Neither took any shit from anyone and both were completely ready to sacrifice themselves for the good of the country. At multiple points in the movie, both characters were running around with guns like they were auditioning for Expendables 4. I have a feeling at least once they switched outfits to see if anyone would notice. I couldn’t.

My biggest issue with Banning and the President being indistinguishable is that it didn’t have to be this way. At its core, the premise of this series of movies is “Secret Service Agent Mike Banning saves the President’s Life”. Notice I didn’t specifically name the President that Aaron Eckahrt plays. London had the opportunity to keep the premise the same but cast a new President. What if this time, the President is a skeevy lawyer who doesn’t get along with Banning? What if the President was an old man who couldn’t hold a gun, much less use one? What if Banning didn’t trust this President and suspected he was conspiring with the attackers? Any one of those would have made a more compelling premise than what we got which was essentially the end scene of Bad Boys 2 but one of them is the President.

And you wonder, why didn’t London Has Fallen make the President a character that wasn’t just a younger version of Harrison Ford in Air Force One? The answer is because the President is good and America is strong and terrorists are bad and the end, you commie. Stop asking questions! London Has Fallen has no room to confuse its audience with subtlety. If we try to put any themes into the script, it will detract from the countless collapsing landmarks and car chases. When Banning is beating his fiftieth terrorist to death, he gives a rousing speech about America that both figuratively and literally is inaudible because of the punching. I know he said something about America being more than just a man, but that’s all I could make out and it really didn’t make a difference. We’ve seen other movies like this. We know the drill.

And to London Has Fallen‘s credit, the action is serviceable. It is by no means groundbreaking, but it’s not bad. There is even a tracking shot that is technically pretty interesting but because of how poorly the film sets up the characters and the situation, is ultimately unmemorable. Agent Banning is your standard action hero. The villains are all some variation of Stock Middle Eastern Terrorist. It felt less like watching a movie and more like watching someone play Modern Warfare.

But to say that London Has Fallen was pretty much like watching someone play an action video game would be a real disservice to action video games. They occasionally have a plot and sometimes even manage to tell a compelling story. Spec Ops 2: The Line is a game about grappling with the mental and geopolitical consequences of waging war. London Has Fallen is closer to a Duke Nukem kind of game but without the self awareness that every so often utlerreminds you that the creators of the game understand what they’re making.

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And that’s really where I think London Has Fallen fails hardest. The movie starts with a drone strike taking out a random seemingly nefarious terrorist. Spoiler Alert: he survives. You know who doesn’t survive? The rest of the guests having fun at the wedding the drone demolished. Now I am far from sympathetic to terrorists but I can’t for the life of me wrap my head around why London Has Fallen chose to have the drone kill a party filled with young family members and caterers, if it wasn’t chosen to set up some other point.

You could go in a million different ways from that opening and make some really compelling points about whether drone warfare is or isn’t moral. Are we creating more terrorists than we kill? Do the benefits of keeping troops out of harm’s way outweigh the benefits? London isn’t interested any of that philosophy and just moves on. In fact, [SPOILER ALERT] London Has Fallen ends with another drone strike that is referenced as being clear of civilians but the explosion is big and cool enough that it is clear that is wasn’t.

You can’t help but draw parallels between the detachment with which London Has Fallen chooses to not address its own themes and the way we talk about warfare today. Even some of our own leading presidential candidates have been very successfully advocating anti terrorism policies that include carpet bombing and killing terrorist’s families. Can we blame the people behind London Has Fallen for making a movie that seems to have been written for or even by those candidates?

London Has Fallen is empty in every way. The action is bland. The characters are rip offs of classic action heroes like John McClane but without the vulnerability and humanity. The plot goes exactly the way you would expect. Most of the lines are cliches. And most disappointingly, it takes no stance on the various political concepts it namechecks. You can do worse than London Has Fallen but in a weekend where Zootopia and Deadpool are poised to take the number one and two spots, you can do a hell of a lot better too.

Rating: 3/10


Matthew Nando Kelly is an incredibly cool and handsome staff writer for Pop-Break who was allowed to write his own bio. Besides weekly Flash recaps, he focuses on film, television, music, and video games. Matthew also has a podcast called Mad Bracket Status where he discusses pop culture related brackets with fellow Pop-Break writer DJ Chapman. He has an unshakable love for U2, cats, and the New Orleans Saints. His twitter handle is @NationofNando. Did we mention how handsome he was?

Matthew Nando Kelly is the cool and tough Managing Editor of Pop Break who was allowed to write his own bio. Besides weekly Flash recaps, he has a podcast called Mad Bracket Status where he makes pop culture brackets with fellow writer DJ Chapman.