There is a moment a little over halfway through the abysmal new film London Has Fallen when a rugged and ruthless Gerard Butler demands that a faceless terrorist “go back to Fuckheadistan” just as he knifes his foe in the chest. If you laughed at that quote just now, then you may have found your new favorite film, but if you groaned as most would and still choose to see this abomination of action cinema you are setting yourself up for one of the worst moviegoing experiences of this still young millennium.
London Has Fallen is the perfect example of an unnecessary sequel. Its predecessor, 2013’s Olympus Has Fallen, was a hit in the same way granola is said to be good for you, and by that I mean it was better than most films of its time, but still void of any real nutritional value. Instead of leaning into the inherent absurdity of the film’s plot, director Antoine Fuqua chose to approach the idea of an attack on the White House in a more Die Hard-esque manner, with the only intentional humor stemming from the sporadic one-liners uttered by Secret Service officer Mike Banning (Gerard Butler). The plot was as miserable as the film’s cheap CGI, offering hordes of largely faceless bad guys and no real emotional depth, but heavy marketing aimed at leveraging the idea that the film reinforced the invincibility of the American spirit helped carry the title to the top of box office charts.
In London, Banning once again faces off against an impossibly sized army of largely faceless evildoers, but the mediocre amusements that made the first film bearable are nowhere to be found. Following the unexpected death of the British Prime Minister, President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) and other world leaders descend upon London to pay their respects. Before the proceedings can begin however, several terrorist attacks targeting those leaders occur simultaneously throughout the city. Many lives are lost, including some of the president’s top aides, but Asher and Banning escape largely unharmed. By the time the two are able to catch their breath they realize they have no way to contact the White House, so they decide to seek shelter at an MI-6 bunker until they can find a way to stop the evil wreaking havoc on the city and get the president back on American soil. Bad guys come, bad guys go, but at no point do you fear for either Banning or Asher’s life. These men want to kill them, sure, but Swedish director Babak Najafi presents the story in such a way that each plays like a competition to see how many quips and bullets can be fired off before someone yells, “cut.” More often than not, the answer is too many.
Bad dialogue and heavy gunplay is fine in films that understand how silly such scene can come across, but London Has Fallen believes itself to be something greater than a quickly forgettable excuse to eat popcorn in the dark. The events onscreen and the words being said all reflect an inherent silliness that exists in any action sequel that asks you to believe the same unstoppable person is tasked to do the same exact thing all over again, but the story is presented in a way that demands you take things as seriously as possible. To make matters worse, the film does everything in its powers to position Butler as this generation’s next big action star, but his performance only brings to mind the heyday of direct-to-video favorite Steven Segal. Likewise, Eckhart cannot find a convincing bone in his body once the bullets begin to fly. Asher is not a gunslinger, nor should he be, but there is something to be said for making the audience believe you would be able to step up if the situation demanded it. Asher is too good-natured to be tasked with self defense, especially in a situation that demands a level of callousness towards enemies that presidents are not supposed to possess.
It’s worth mentioning that other notable stars appear in London Has Fallen, but none of them are given much, if anything, to do. Radha Mitchell, for example, portrays the pregnant wife of Banning who is left to prepare for their first born child’s arrival while Mike escorts the president overseas. Her character’s presence in the film bookends the story, but she only receives just over five minutes of screen time and less than 10 lines of dialogue. Similarly, Morgan Freeman returns to reprise his role from Olympus as the highest ranking U.S. politician seemingly no one wants to kill, and just like Mitchell his presence in the film limited to just a few brief sequences that have little to no impact on the central story. Melissa Leo, Jackie Earle Hayley and Robert Forster also make brief appearances, but again they have little to do other bare witness to the events unfolding in London.
If Olympus was just another take on the classic “Die Hard in _____” scenario then London is a parody of Die Hard that isn’t in on the joke. It’s a boneheaded, testosterone fueled shoot-’em-up that cares not for the messages it sends or its complete lack of entertainment value. Heck, it doesn’t even it care about its presentation, as the CGI helicopters and explosions boasts some of ugliest visual effects found in a production costing more than $100 million in recent memory. There is not a single redeemable quality to this film, and despite that fact I have a sneaking suspicion we’ll see Banning take on yet another terrorist cell in two-to-three years’ time because the overarching theme of patriotism is slathered so thickly throughout this title, there is not a doubt in my mind there will be some who embrace it as a new standard for genre storytelling. If you know someone who later claims this to be true, delete them from your life. Our time on this planet is too short to be wasted on storytelling that feels this cheaply and disingenuously thrown together.