London Has Fallen and all the images you see in this review are owned by Focus Features, Gramercy Pictures, and Lionsgate Films
Directed by Babak Najafi
Look, Gods of Egypt was a mistake, alright? Gerard Butler was certainly not the ONLY one responsible for that catastrophe and was frankly one of the few saving graces for a movie that deserved none. He’s learned his lesson though and is coming back with a sequel to probably his second most popular film (after 300). Will this be the shot in the arm his career needs after that unfathomable mess, or will this befall the same fate of pretty much every other sequel to a surprise hit which is to crash and burn spectacularly? Let’s find out!!
The movie follows Secret Service agent Mike Bannon (Gerard Butler) and President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) who are in London so that the President can attend the funeral of the recently deceased Prime Minister. Not only is he in attendance though, but so are many leaders of the western world which is something this movie seems to think has NEVER happened. Uh… world leaders get together all the time. Has this movie ever heard of the G8 summit? Anyway, the death of the Prime Minister turns out to be a ploy for a known arms dealer Aamir Barkawi (Alon Moni Aboutboul) to take his revenge on the US (and presumably the rest of the G8) for a drone strike that was targeting him, but managed to kill everyone at his daughter’s wedding. There’s only ONE person who seems to think that something might be up though, and when shit hits the fan Mike Bannon is on the job to save the president and kill as many bad guys as possible! While this is going on, Vice President Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) is dragged back into the situation room to deal with ANOTHER crisis where the President is smack dab in the middle of utter chaos and he does… stuff. I think. Will Mike be able to save the President and the free world before the day is over? Is there a mole in the British military or spy network that helped these terrorist pull of their plan? Did all the people they dragged back in from the first movie at least get a nice paycheck out of this?
It’s a shame that the script for this movie is as detestable as it is because almost everything else here, from the action beats and pacing to the acting and overall premise, is at the very least solid and rise into impressive territory from time to time. The sheer unpleasantness of the whole affair though, dilutes any enjoyment that I got out of this, and I know that the first movie was about Gerard Butler fighting off North Koreans, but I don’t recall that movie being as mean spirited and jingoistic as this sequel turned out to be. It feels like they tried to pull back a bit on the xenophobia for the first film, but after that was a success they decided to cut loose completely for this one which ended up leading to a much worse movie. Look, the first one wasn’t what you would call inoffensive, but there was enough in there to keep it from being overtly toxic which kept the events light and enjoyable at face value. Maybe other people will be better equipped to handle the vileness of the script but for me, the movie was an unpalatable slog.
Let’s start with where this movie failed to live up to its predecessor. In the original movie, the villains were a terrorist group within North Korea who invade Washington DC and take over the White House in order to get nuclear launch codes and to remove the US military from Korean waters; making way for an invasion by North Korea into South Korea. Here’s what the movie did to mitigate its racist coding of Asians. The movie is focused on a single location (The White House) and doesn’t try to spread the action to the general populace which helps maintain the feel of a movie by setting it in an extravagant location instead of somewhere that would make the violence too real for some audience members (YOU are the ones in danger of the North Koreans!). The movie also didn’t try to tie itself to current events too much as an invasion by North Korea is about as ludicrous of a premise you can have for a movie (*cough* Red Dawn *cough*) so once again it feels much more like a movie than political commentary. Also, while I can’t be one hundred percent certain, from what I can recall the bad guys are ALL terrorist commandos who are coming into the country instead of Asian Americans who turned against us. In fact, I think the only American traitor in that movie is a white Secret Service agent, so while it’s still xenophobic (I should be scared of foreign invaders) at least it doesn’t cast aspersions on Asian Americans (I should be scared of fellow Americans who are also Asian). What does this all come down to? In my opinion, the movie is a problematic mess, but manages to be entertaining despite those problems, and I only bring up those three points to show that there was at least SOME restraint and an effort to keep it feeling like a movie rather than a reflection of the real world (even if there were those who did indeed feel their own xenophobia was encouraged by the film). That restraint is not present in the LEAST for London Has Fallen and I was just unable to get over how unashamed they were to indulge in the basest levels of racism and xenophobia for this stupid action film that didn’t need any of that.
The movie tries to make things more politically relevant by having the motivation for the villains not be something that makes absolutely no sense (the reunification of North and South Korea), but instead it’s a response to recent drone strikes by the US, specifically one that was carried out at the wedding for the daughter of the bad guy (Aamir Barkawi). They show this in the movie and it’s honestly a startling scene as what looks like hundreds of civilians are killed in one fell swoop in order to take out one dude (Aamir) and yet HE manages to live through it… somehow. I’m PRETTY sure the US never fucked up THAT badly on a drone strike (the obvious allusion here is the 2013 strike in Yemin that targeted what turned out to be a wedding caravan and ended up killing twelve civilians) but the point is taken. Motivation does not equal justification, but that is one hell of motive. Here’s where things get problematic though. The added twist here that informs about half of the set pieces in the movie is that most of the people carrying out these attacks are radicalized British citizens who are turning against their own country, and almost all of them are brown dudes (thus making it hard for a proper response as no one can apparently tell the difference between legitimate rescue/law enforcement personnel and terrorist in disguise). This is EXPLICITLY stated in the movie, and while they do throw in some white mercenaries, the message the movie is sending out is BROWN MEN ARE GOING TO INFILTRATE ALL LEVELS OF YOUR SOCIETY INCLUDING THE POLICE AND RESCUE SERVICES AND WILL TRY TO KILL YOU. It’s practically invasion of the Body Snatchers, only without the point of it being a McCarthy Era allegory and instead is the manifestation of what too many people in this world fear is actually happening in the real word.
In a world where every Republican running for President is telling us that we should fear Syrian refugees who are trying to ESCAPE terrorism, this movie gives that boogeyman an air of legitimacy that is unconscionable. I can believe that some people who saw the first movie felt justified in their racist attitudes toward Asians, but I doubt those same people legitimately though that North Korea would be able to fly a plane into Washington DC and just waltz right into the White House. Here? It’s honestly just as (if not more so) ludicrous just on the level of damage and the efficacy of this plot, but I get the feeling that a lot of people are going to buy into this a lot more than the first film. Oh, and it’s also not helped by Gerard Butler LITERALLY saying “Go back to Fuck-Head-istan” at one point in the movie. If this had just been at least SOMEWHAT self-reflective about its unadulterated hate towards men of the Muslim world, there could have been something to salvage here, but even the drone strike at the beginning that killed so many people and the obvious effect it had on our villains (the tech guy working for the bad guy lost his legs in that strike if I’m not mistaken) just seems to be there to reaffirm America’s unwavering moral superiority in the face of our own failings. There’s a horrible speech that Butler gives at the end about how these people have “always been trying to kill us” (us meaning Americans, or just white people in general?) and it’s basically there to say that no matter what we do, it’s justified because everyone else is going to be the bad guys. The villains in this movie are indeed the bad guys here in that they decimated a huge part of London, but this black and white view of the War on Terror isn’t helpful either. It’s like they took something that we SHOULD be looking at in shades of gray (the collateral damage of drones versus the value of eliminating a target) and then INTENTIONALLY turned it into a simple “we rule, you suck” message. You know how bad it gets? The movie ends on a heroic drone strike to kill the villain. There’s nothing to indicate that we didn’t kill even MORE civilians to get this ONE GUY, but fuck it. America! FUCK YEAH!!
Taking a step back, there are some good elements in here that would have worked in a much less offensive (the lazy kind, not the edgy kind) movie. As reprehensible as everything is, the action does hold up. When Gerard Butler is going through buildings stabbing mother fuckers or firing an assault rifle down the streets of London, it’s done very well with strong cinematography and Butler’s natural charisma as an action hero. The interplay between Butler and Eckhart is also very strong as they have pretty solid banter throughout, though there is a completely pointless gay joke right in the middle of the movie that soured that bromance a bit for me. I MIGHT have overlooked it if the rest of the movie wasn’t already checking off too many phobias, but with so many things for the movie to be virulently afraid of already, gayness I guess should just be added to the pile. I guess the acting from everyone else in the cast is fine, though I get the feeling that Morgan Freeman really didn’t want to be here as he looks EXTRA sad in this movie. The biggest waste though is that they bothered to get Jackie Earle Haley into this movie, but then do nothing with him (he could have made a GREAT villain). The guy’s the secretary of… something who’s in the board room with Morgan Freeman and about eight other actors, half of which are big names for the first film who look like they’re here against their will under contract. He’s just wasted here considering how great of an actor he is and how menacing he can be as a villain (look no further than the Nightmare on Elm Street remake where he’s the ONLY redeemable aspect). That’s more of a personal gripe considering how much I like him as an actor though. Overall, I liked the characters in this when they WEREN’T being racist shit heads.
I wanted to like this movie, and I did in parts. It’s frustrating because there are parts here that I would want to revisit like when the bad guys raid the MI6 hideout, or the bad ass finale with the requisite Single Take shot. A lot of people will say to take the politics out of entertainment and to just enjoy it without any baggage. I’m not one of those people though, and while I will give slack to older movies made in times where their problematic elements were being addressed, there’s no excuse for this or any other movie to be this ham fisted and tasteless. Skip this movie at the theaters, and when it ends up where it belongs (a permanent spot at Walmart’s $9.95 rack), give it the finger when you pass it by. For America. The REAL America that we all live in, and not the imaginary one that this garbage tries to perpetuate.
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