Movie Review: ‘LONDON HAS FALLEN’ offers the expected brainless mayhem

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Jared McMillan // Film Critic

LONDON HAS FALLEN | 99 min | PG-13
Director: Babak Najafi
Cast: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart and Morgan Freeman

Sometimes, it is downright confusing being a male moviegoer. Hollywood has made it a mission to put us at the summit of Demographic Mountain, and therefore, makes it difficult to diffuse the obvious manipulation of most productions. Nothing gives us this challenge more than the action movie. Again, speaking solely from a male perspective, there is this carnal thirst that needs to be quenched by a combination of violence, sex, more violence, cheesy one-liners, and big, violent explosions of violence.

The release of OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN in 2013 gave the public that sort of structure. A disgraced Secret Service agent has a shot at redemption when the White House comes under attack in a bloody battle to protect the President. There wasn’t anything original about it, but it knew what it was and went all-in on both campiness and gratuitous violence, built on Antoine Fuqua’s direction and a budding chemistry between Butler’s secret service agent Mike Banning and Aaron Eckhart’s President Ben Asher.

Of course, because the movie did better than expected, Hollywood went and made a sequel in LONDON HAS FALLEN. Normally, there is a resounding eye roll for unnecessary sequels, but there is a leniency when it comes to B-movie actioners. It’s a type of movie that the audience knows what they’re getting, and are looking for mindless entertainment in the form of bullets and kabooms. However, this is one sequel that left this writer wanting the simplicity of its predecessor.

Butler and Eckhart are back to reprise their roles as Banning and Pres. Asher. The Prime Minister of Britain has died and all of the free-world leaders convene in London to pay their respects. Subsequently, all of these leaders die in a massive terrorist attack, save for Pres. Asher, because his personal guard is Mike Banning, the one-man army that no one did their research on. As Banning tries to get Pres. Asher to safety, they evade/kill terrorists looking to execute the President online, for the world to see.

Gerard Butler is Mike Banning. Photo courtesy of Gramercy Pictures.

Gerard Butler is Mike Banning. Photo courtesy of Gramercy Pictures.

From the start, it’s clear that LONDON HAS FALLEN is trying to be something of a moral grey area, but, like our protagonist, can’t quite meet a proper execution. The sect/black market business/terror cell headed by Aamir Barkawi (Alon Aboutboul) is set up to be motivated by revenge after a drone strike killed much of his family. As the movie progresses, this revenge becomes bringing down Western civilization in order to initiate change, but then Barkawi is framed as nothing more than a seedy arms dealer.

The villainy is not the only inconsistency in the movie. The tone of the film goes from serious to campy at the drop of a hat. For instance, while V.P. Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) is heading the war room amid a tragedy, titles revealing each member at the table appear to let the audience know who it is. Also, the death of a certain important someone is a touching moment that ends with the ubiquitous “go get those a-holes”, so to speak. It’s jarring for the viewer looking for entertainment without worrying about investing in every side character.

The film’s other problems come from post-production, like the aforementioned introductory titles, cheesy special effects, and terrible editing. In fact, the editing goes from terrible (unnecessary jump cuts, breaking the 180-rule) to fantastic; for instance, the attempted breach of terrorist HQ is a long Steadicam take and the movie’s best sequence. The action is grade-A and the chemistry between Banning and Asher is a great time. It’s clear that director Babak Najafi puts all of his effort in the body count basket, and the movie comes alive when Banning goes full tilt, bordering on sociopathic tendencies.

It just needed to find a direction to go on and stick with it, instead of trying to inject some sort of morality. Don’t start the movie with America doing something shady and then never really touch on it again until the end. LONDON HAS FALLEN has its moments when it hits the action head-on, but it gets hijacked by unnecessary platitudes. It can attempt to save the President, but sacrifices itself in order to do so. Maybe when Tokyo falls, Banning and Asher can leave everyone at home and off-camera.

LONDON HAS FALLEN opens in theaters nationwide tomorrow.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.