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London Has Fallen (2016)

London-Has-Fallen-Butler-EckhartDIRECTOR: Babak Najafi

CAST: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Charlotte Riley, Radha Mitchell, Melissa Leo, Robert Forster, Jackie Earle Haley, Alon Aboutboul, Waleed Zuaiter

REVIEW:

2013’s Olympus Has Fallen wasn’t any kind of great movie, but it was a surprisingly enjoyable Die Hard knock-off with enough hardcore action to satisfy fans of the genre.  But while an entertaining enough diversion, it wasn’t a movie that particularly cried out for a sequel, and London Has Fallen has the hallmarks of a sequel that was slapped together because the original did well at the box office, not because the filmmakers (with Antoine Fuqua replaced in the director’s chair by Babak Najafi) had any fresh or innovative ideas.  London Has Fallen is tired and generic with a low energy level.  For undemanding, mindless diversion, it might still be adequate, but those seeking those qualities would be better-served just re-watching the first one (or better yet, the granddaddy of them all, the original Die Hard).

After some boring and generic set-up establishing where our characters are since the events of Olympus Has Fallen (Gerard Butler’s intrepid Secret Service agent Mike Banning and Aaron Eckhart’s President Benjamin Asher are more BFF than ever, and Mike and his wife played by Radha Mitchell have a baby on the way), the world leaders assemble in London for the funeral of the British Prime Minister, who has passed away suddenly.  The star-studded funeral is actually an elaborate trap orchestrated by arms dealer/terrorist Barkawi (Alon Aboutboul), who is observing from afar while his son Kamran (Waleed Zuaiter) runs the show on the ground.  Simultaneous explosions and shootings take down the various world leaders converging on the British capital (including the German Chancellor who’s cast with an obvious Angela Merkel lookalike) until only Asher, with Banning at his side, is left standing.  The two go on the run through a locked-down London pursued by Barkawi’s men, who want to publicly execute the American President before the eyes of the world.  Meanwhile back in Washington, Vice President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) tries to organize the cavalry.

London Has Fallen is made with competence but not a lot of flair, certainly not enough to overcome the “been there, done that” factor.  The terrorist attack is not as impressively well-coordinated as the one in the first movie (which may or may not have been actually plausible but did a nice job of seeming convincing), and the hero has unerringly perfect aim and drops one bad guy per shot, while an army of henchmen with automatic weapons blazing can never seem to hit much of anything (besides, of course, extras and disposable supporting characters).  Olympus Has Fallen wasn’t devoid of action cliches like this, but they seem more glaring here.  Also, the movie is hamstrung by shoddy CGI that is jarringly bad for a big mainstream action movie.  By taking us out of a locked-down White House and sending our dynamic duo scurrying all over a war-torn London, the movie tries to cover more ground and raise the stakes, but this feels like aimless meandering.  The action is a lot of generic and repetitive shoot-em-ups, and an extraneous closing scene in a parking garage feels shoehorned in to wrap up a thinly-developed subplot between two characters we don’t care about.

The movie overall has a more jingoistic “Murica” streak than its predecessor, or at least a more heavy-handed one .  “Go back to Fuckheadistan”, is one of Banning’s not particularly witty one-liners (ironically, director Babak Najafi is Iranian).  In fairness, the movie pays lip service to civilian casualties in US drone strikes (Barkawi is out for revenge after a drone strike that annihilated a lavish wedding party where he was in attendance, and killed his daughter), and perhaps in an attempt to be politically correct and uncontroversial, while the terrorists here are Middle Eastern, Barkawi is an arms dealer motivated first by profits and then revenge, not religious fanaticism.  One could question the tastefulness of releasing a movie about a terrorist attack on a major European capital city so soon after the real-life terrorist attacks in Paris (with another attack in Brussels coming as the movie is playing in theaters).  In fairness, there’s no real similarities between the situations besides the most basic premise, but the more these kinds of incidents become regular occurrences in reality, the harder it is to enjoy the “escapism” of seeing it happen in an action movie.  In light of recent events, London Has Fallen feels arguably ill-timed.

3740d3e2b1Gerard Butler’s return as Mike Banning, possibly in an attempt to turn this into an action “franchise” (he needs something to rejuvenate his floundering career, considering the other movie in which he can also currently be seen in theaters is the expensive flop Gods of Egypt), doesn’t bring Banning any closer to being an action icon.  Butler is dour and uncharismatic; he’s at his best when he stops stiffly grunting lame one-liners in a bad American accent and just dispatches bad guys with a brutality that surpasses what we typically expect from an “action hero”.  Aaron Eckhart gets to tag along and actively join in the action this time.  Morgan Freeman, Robert Forster, Melissa Leo, and Radha Mitchell if anything have even less to do here than they did in the first movie; Angela Bassett gets slightly more, but the shoddy treatment of her character kind of cancels it out.  Equally thankless roles await newcomers Charlotte Riley (Mrs. Tom Hardy) as an MI6 agent, and Jackie Earle Haley who is superfluously added to the crowded room of Pentagon bigwigs watching the situation with alarmed expressions and occasionally saying a line or two.  Given some of his previous roles, one could imagine Haley having kicked the energy level up a notch if he’d been allowed to play a villain.  When it comes to this installment’s bad guys, London isn’t exactly going all out.  Israeli actor Alon Aboutboul, whose previous ignominious claim to fame was getting his neck twisted by Bane in the football stadium in The Dark Knight Rises, sits in his safe house on his laptop and occasionally makes some dire pronouncement; as his son, Waleed Zuaiter doesn’t make any more of an impression.  The first movie’s villain, Rick Yune’s Kang, wasn’t a great bad guy, but he was better than these two, and the focus split between them  and the scant screentime afforded to each means there’s not really even much of a “main” villain, just endless swaths of interchangeable henchmen for Banning to mow through.

If all one is seeking is ninety-nine minutes of undemanding mindless throw-away diversion, I suppose London Has Fallen is adequate, but even as an unnecessary sequel to a marginally above average action movie, it’s disappointing.  Worn-out tropes and generic shootouts are a dime a dozen, and London Has Fallen doesn’t bring enough new to the table to justify its existence.

* * 1/2

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