LONDON HAS FALLEN Review

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London falls? Nnnnotsomuch, says Tony.


Olympus Has Fallen was an explosive mixture, as though executives somewhere had thought ‘What happens if you smash Independence Day and Die Hard together, good and hard?’ With Gerard Butler doing his Bruce Willis impression as Mike Banning, the secret service security man who had been with Aaron Eckhart’s US President when the First Lady died, it had a solid under-running narrative of redemption, Banning being the only man who can save the President’s son, and then the President, and then the world, in an ever-escalating game of high stakes inside what is usually one of the most secure buildings on the planet – Nakatomi Plaza be damned, this is the freakin’ White House. It had interesting villains, took its time to set up its ‘locked-down building’ premise, and while it never disappointed on the ‘things going bang’ front, it rarely forgot to work in some human emotions and consequences to make you invest in the outcome.

London Has Fallen is…erm…a movie.

Actually, that’s not even true. London Has Fallen is half a movie, about a quarter of a reasonable console game, and barely a damn thing to connect the two.

The plotline of the movie is paper thin: the British Prime Minister has died suddenly, and a state funeral is called for. (Really? For an incumbent British PM?) World leaders from around the globe suddenly descend on London, competing security details trying to work out ways to make the funeral ‘the most protected event on the planet.’ Banning is now President Asher’s (Eckhart’s) special agent in charge of Presidential Security, with Angela Bassett as his boss, head of the secret service. They both hate the suddenness of the thing, as they’ve only been given three days between the death and the funeral (Again, really? Cos the dead are in a hurry?).

And then, of course, with a predictability baked right in to why you pay your entrance fee, things go spectacularly tits-up. World leaders are taken out in a variety of – to be fair – quite amusing ways in what was probably an expensive ten minutes of footage to capture and/or engineer. But there’s the first reason that London Has Fallen doesn’t pack the same punch as its predecessor – it lacks the intensity of action. Sure, you get plenty of bang for your buck, but it’s spread out around the city – boats blowing up on the Thames, two vans full of explosive taking down a gridlocked bridge, Westminster Abbey blowing its stack (William the Conqueror’s gonna be pissed), and so on, and so on. What’s more, there are some classic on-screen opportunities missed – parliament blows out a lot of windows, but doesn’t fall. Downing Street – safe as houses. Tower Bridge? Not the one that falls into the river. The Gherkin, the Shard, the Tower of freakin’ London? Not a cinematic sausage. St Pauls appears to take a bit of a pounding, but nothing anywhere near as bad as it should have. Even the London Eye refuses to fall over in spectacular fashion. Honestly, we’re not sure if the producers of the movie have heard of the Luftwaffe, or the IRA, or the 7/7 attacks, because each and every one of those did a better job of making London ‘fall’ – and each and every one of them failed. What this movie delivers is not the fall of London, but a fireworks display. It’s quite a good fireworks display, to be sure, but once it’s over, you’re pretty much left sitting about wondering if there’s going to be more, or whether that was it.

Yep. That’s pretty much it.

The second act is tedious, inasmuch as it’s not particularly well connected to the first act, and more or less becomes a mission in a console game, as the President is captured from an MI6 safehouse and Banning goes to rescue him. There’s little in the way of character development or plot to engage with – the terrorists plan to execute Eckhart’s President live on YouTube, and Banning strikes up a friendship with a Scottish SAS man as the balaclava-junkies lay down covering fire to get our man inside Terrorist HQ, London. So there’s a little bit of runny, jumpy, somersaulty business, but then mostly it’s all about the rapid-fire gun battles, and…erm…more rapid-fire gun-battles, followed by a big explosion which miraculously kills all the bad guys, while leaving the good guys alive and surprisingly unhurt. Because…y’know…it’s righteous fire.

The point is, after the diffuse and unfocused firework show of the ten minutes of mayhem as London ‘falls,’ there’s little to cook the movie, little to intensify the drama with the sweaty encapsulation of a Die Hard or indeed an Olympus Has Fallen. It’s running and jumping and lots of shooting. There’s one uncomfortable moment, but we pretty much know that Banning will swoop in at the very last moment. Don’t we?

That’s the second major thing that delivers a loud fart in the face when you go to see London Has Fallen. The history of action movies is littered with relatively complex villain backstories, and people you could get behind despite rooting for the nominal hero. In London Has Fallen though, we actually get to see a preliminary drone strike on the daughter of the Big Bad, two years before the action starts. She and many of her family are obliterated at arm’s reach, because of intel that the Big Bad is there – as he would be, as it’s his daughter’s wedding day. So right from the off, the US is seen as a cowardly, remote angel of death, and you can appreciate the grievance of the Big Bad – frankly, if you blew my daughter to bits on her wedding day, I’d want to kill you too. But the planning involved in the scenarios of London Has Fallen demands what one of the better characters in the movie, Charlotte Riley’s MI6 agent Jax, describes as ‘the United Fucking Nations of Everyone Who Hates Us,’ and demands they miraculously work together. It also depends on getting a lot of professional assassins who must absolutely know there’s a high chance they’re going to end the day as a bloody smear on the streets of London to sacrifice themselves in a variety of interesting if occasionally bizarre ways, just to teach the Big Boys a lesson. There’s delivering a good exciting popcorn movie, and then there’s stretching the bounds of credibility way beyond the point where they snap and twang up to hit you in the face, and London Has Fallen is very definitely in that second category.

Possibly the most galling thing though is that having shown the US as this uncaring, daughter-bombing caricature at the start, not only does Banning himself come off a little ‘thousand year Reich’ when killing the Small Bad at the end of the movie, with his forecasts that the US will still be there in another millennium, but the crowbarred-in ‘back for Christmas’ rationale of Banning’s need to survive this movie is that his wife is heavily pregnant, and his final scenes are with her – and their new-born daughter. What’s more, Morgan Freeman as vice-President Allan Trumbull has just sent another drone screaming to the house of the Big Bad, blowing him (reliably, this time) to bits. The underlying political message is that yes, the US will blow up your civilians, your non-combatants, remotely by drone at weddings, because it has a right to. It says that the nation learns nothing from its experiences in the movie, and feels itself still justified in droning its enemies to death at the end, as it did at the start. And in Banning’s love for his new daughter, it says that the US sees no contradiction between killing someone else’s daughters, and loving its own. Politically speaking, the message of the movie is puerile and more than a little…dare we say…Trumpian.

Oh, did I mention Colin Salmon was in this movie? I wouldn’t let it worry you. It clearly doesn’t worry Salmon, who seems to have sent a wardrobe to stand in for him, while he phones in his dialogue from a beach somewhere. Clearly, the cashing of cheques is a key factor in what feels like a vanity project not for Butler, but on behalf of the US military-industrial complex, over the Rest of the World’s military-industrial complex.

So should you go see London Has Fallen? I wouldn’t if I were you. The politics are spurious, the fireworks are good but brief and too widely dispersed to have much impact, there’s no particular character development or connection between the first and second half (which descends into a shoot ’em up), and the message of might making right seems to be the only legacy. Bottom line, you’d be better off watching Independence Day or Olympus Has Fallen for fireworks, then playing Call of Duty 4 for the rest of the running time. You’ll be a lot more involved, to much better effect.

Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk

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