As the critical reception rolls in for London Has Fallen, one thing becomes very clear. The tropes of the old school action shoot ‘em up simply don’t cut it for most people anymore. Perhaps there is simply no place for a lone man facing off against scores of nameless, faceless (often brown) enemies and mowing them down in our more sensitive, progressive times. However, this type of movie hasn’t quite escaped my affections yet. Perhaps it’s the Schwarzenegger obsessed 12-year-old boy in me who needed his moment to breathe every once and a while, or perhaps I’m just a very silly 20-year-old man. What I’m trying to say is, I really enjoyed Olympus Has Fallen three years ago. Sure, it was jingoistic and goofy, but there was a certain charm to Gerard Butler doing his best John McClane impression, and the film had a knack for sheer large scale brutality that is often glossed over in action films today. As such, I went into London Has Fallen with a bit of hope, although there is rarely a more dreary prospect than sequels to surprise hit action movies.
We pick up with Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) having been re-instated into the Secret Service. He’s best pals with President Asher (Aaron Eckhart), and generally regarded as the big man on campus after saving The White House. However, he will find his skills tested again when the President finds himself in yet another trap. At the funeral for London’s Prime Minster, an Islamic terrorist group launches a siege on all of the world leaders who show up. This attack leaves Banning and Asher stranded in the city with not a friend in the world, while the situation room, again lead by Vice President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) attempts to find a solution that does not involve shooting a lot of dudes in the face.
Yes, innovation certainly is not this film’s strong suit. Opting for the ever pervasive “more of the same” tactic that plagues a lot of these sequels. The story really only acts as an excuse to plop Butler and company in front of more dudes with guns, with character interactions that feel more ripped out of a Team America: World Police style parody of action cinema than a real film. However, we’ve still got plenty of Butler, and he’s packing the same charisma that made him so appealing in the first film. He’s gruff and ruthless, but also down to earth and funny, which is about as rich a character as you can really ask for here. Both he and Eckhart seem to know exactly what goofy movie they’re in, and ham it up to the max to both an amusing and cringe-inducing degree along their blood soaked road trip. Unfortunately, the troupe of other phenomenally talented actors is wasted in the same way as they were in the first film. Freeman is there just to bark some orders at people, while heavy hitters such as Robert Forster, Melissa Leo and Jackie Earle Haley barely get a line in as they sit at the same desk for the whole movie.
Often times, when an action film like this is a hit, the studio will often make a major downgrade on the director for the sequel. We saw it with the Taken films, and with the loss of veteran Antoine Fuqua in favor of newcomer Babak Najafi, it seemed as though history was quick to repeat itself. However, Najafi proves himself to be the surprise MVP of this film, showing off a skillful knack for controlled chaos here. Sure, none of the action scenes here are especially original, but they’re well executed and appropriately brutal body collectors that are filmed vividly enough to actually see them. In fact, there’s a late in the game long-take action sequence (with a few sneaky cuts of course), that is almost worth the price of admission in and of itself. It’s a testament that his action looks this good, as the visual effects here are just as shoddy and Syfy Channel looking as they were in the original. While he certainly doesn’t drive this film to greatness by any means, I would be very curious to see the action film Najafi could pull off if it were well-scripted.
As cinema and politics move further and further down the path they are headed, I suspect that films like London Has Fallen will soon become next to obsolete. There’s certainly an argument for that being a good thing, as many foreign viewers could see a film like this as cocky propaganda from a country that is currently not in such great shape itself. As such, I’ll enjoy the few of these that are left while I can, because as much as I adore how inclusive and thought provoking modern action films can be, I also enjoy shutting my brain off as I watch a few others get splattered on a wall. I would never dream of arguing that this is any form of good cinema, but as the subject of a mindless, violent little B-Movie, Mike Banning has gotten the job done once again.