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London Has Fallen

D: Babak Najafi / 99m

Cast: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Alon Moni Aboutboul, Robert Forster, Jackie Earle Haley, Melissa Leo, Radha Mitchell, Sean O’Bryan, Charlotte Riley, Colin Salmon, Waleed Zuaiter

Three years have passed since the events of Olympus Has Fallen. Benjamin Asher (Eckhart) is in his second term of office as the US President, and Mike Banning (Butler) is still his most trusted Secret Service agent. Mike and his wife, Leah (Mitchell), are expecting their first child, and this newly approaching responsibility has prompted Mike to consider resigning from the Secret Service. But before he can make a final decision, the unexpected death of the British Prime Minister means a state funeral and the attendance of around forty heads of state from around the globe, including Asher.

In London, their arrival at the funeral triggers a series of terrorist attacks on some of the various heads of state: a barge explosion on the Thames that kills the French President, bombs going off at either end of Chelsea Bridge where the Japanese Prime Minister is held up in traffic, a further explosion at the Houses of Parliament where the Italian Prime Minister is canoodling with his latest girlfriend, and gunfire outside Buckingham Palace where the German Chancellor is mowed down. A firefight between the Secret Service and heavily armed terrorists ends with Asher, Banning, and Secret Service director Lynne Jacobs (Bassett) escaping by car and then by helicopter. But soon their helicopter is shot down, and Asher and Banning have to find safety before they’re found by the terrorists.

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They find temporary sanctuary at an MI6 safe house, along the way learning that the main target of the attacks is Asher himself, and that he’s wanted alive so that he can be executed, live on the Net, for everyone in the world to see. At the safe house they also discover the reason why: two years before, Asher ordered a drone strike on a notorious arms dealer, Aamir Barkawi (Aboutboul). Barkawi survived, as did his son Kamran (Zuaiter), but his daughter was killed in the blast. This is his revenge. Aided by MI6 agent Jacquelin Marshall (Riley), Asher and Banning also discover that someone is aiding Barkawi by providing access to the British security systems.

With the safe house compromised, Asher and Banning escape but they’re ambushed, and Asher is taken. Banning learns the terrorists’ location at the same time the US and British security services do, and together with an SAS unit, he makes a last ditch effort to rescue Asher and put an end to Barkawi’s plan.

Olympus Has Fallen was a surprising success back in 2013, a thick-eared, jingoistic action movie that took its premise seriously and wasn’t afraid of being occasionally brutal and uncompromising (Banning’s interrogation technique). That it was also hugely absurd and as dumb as a bag of nails didn’t seem to hurt its performance at the box office, and it was helped immensely by Butler’s no-nonsense attitude in the role of Banning. Here he’s similarly resolute, only cracking a smile when discussing being a parent, or delivering occasional wisecracks as and when the script requires him to. And the rest of the returning cast all retain that poker-faced sincerity, pulling horrified faces when needed and looking shocked the rest of the time (except for Freeman, who remains passive pretty much throughout).

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The narrative is predicatably inane, the kind of illogical mix of coincidence and haphazard plotting that sees perfectly orchestrated attacks occur in a matter of minutes, but which would have had to rely on the alignment of too many variables to ever work in reality (and yes, of course this isn’t reality, it’s escapism, but even escapism can keep a foothold in the real world). There’s a degree of fun to be had in seeing so many iconic London landmarks blown up or strafed by bullets or suffering incidental damage due to car chases, but it’s all strangely unimpressive. The first movie was made for $70m, but this time round it feels as if the budget was lower, and as a result, the CGI employed looks rougher and less convincing. And the action sequences have that speeded-up, over-edited approach that makes everything happen in a blur, and robs them of any impact.

London Has Fallen crams a lot into its relatively short running time, but most of it is to little effect. Once London has “fallen” the movie doesn’t really know what to do, and resorts to having Asher and Banning running around and killing bad guys at every turn. Barkawi is a better villain than Olympus‘s Korean antagonist, his personal vendetta a better reason for events than any political ideology, but his son Kamran is soon reduced from being his sister’s avenger to just another thug spouting anti-Western sentiments. Back home, Leah’s expecting a baby is meant to show that Banning isn’t all dour looks and grim forebodings (at one point he even suggests their baby has a Kevlar mattress), but with no likelihood of any threat being aimed in their direction, and with Banning being practically indestructible, all talk of his getting back safely to be a dad is redundant. And the subplot involving the mole? You’ll know who it is the moment they appear on screen.

The change of location means a further devaluing of the premise, as the series charges around London (and Romania) with all the subtlety of a Pamplona bull, and the city’s iconic landscape gives way to a series of nondescript back alleys and buildings that have all the character of slum dwellings. You can see the movie getting cheaper and cheaper as it progresses, and by the end you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching a DTV movie made entirely in Romania (something with Steven Seagal in it perhaps). And the freshness and creativity of the first movie’s action scenes is abandoned in favour of an abundance of hallway shootouts where Banning seeks cover behind every available nook and cranny, while the bad guys stand out in the open so they can be more easily despatched.

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Replacing Frederik Bond in the director’s chair, Najafi makes a half-decent fist of things, but he doesn’t bring anything memorable or enticing to the movie, shooting it in a flat, perfunctory way that keeps things from getting too exciting or involving. But with a script that never tries to be anything more than simplistic or pedestrian, Najafi was unlikely to be able to elevate the material, and the result is a movie that stalls far too often on its way to its inevitably dreary conclusion. Scenes rarely connect one to the next, and the movie’s one attempt at tragedy is ruined by the predictable outcome attached to the phrase, “Yes, I’ll be a godmother”.

If there is to be a third movie – and it’s possible, Asher still has two years in office to see out – then it’s to be hoped that a better story can be found than this one to suit the needs of the series. Butler continues to be the main draw, dishing out punishment with a viciousness that few action heroes indulge in, and he also dishes out a handful of one liners with the appropriate acknowledgment of how corny/risible/absurd they are in the given circumstances. Eckhart has only to keep up and get punched repeatedly when captured, while Freeman dons his Mantle of Gravitas with all the enthusiasm of an actor given nothing to do that’s different from before. Forster, Leo, O’Bryan and Haley all get occasional lines of dialogue, and the British contingent, led by Salmon as a befuddled Chief Inspector(!), has its ineptitude made plain until Riley’s appearance as a smart, methodical, and cynical MI6 agent.

As action sequels go, London Has Fallen isn’t going to set the box office alight, and it isn’t going to impress many viewers with its uninspired plotting, featherweight storylines and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it direction from Najafi. With most of its final forty minutes shot at night, it’s also one of the murkiest, most visually unrewarding movies made in recent years, and by the time Butler as Banning is making googly-eyes at his son, audiences will have been moved to lethargy. All of which makes the final shot, where Banning decides whether or not to resign, one that carries a tremendous amount of hope with it – and not that he stays in the service.

Rating: 5/10 – not so bad that it should be avoided, and not so good that it should be applauded, London Has Fallen sets its stall out early on and doesn’t deviate from its intention of being as thick-eared as its predecessor; laughable in places – especially to anyone who lives in London – but determined to ignore how absurd it is, the movie lumbers through the motions and never shows any sign that it wants to be any better than it is.