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Review: London Has Fallen (2016)

London Has Fallen (2016)

Directed by: Babak Najafi

Premise: A sequel to 2013’s Olympus Has Fallen. In the midst of a state funeral, a massive terrorist attack is unleashed on London. Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) must get the President of the United States (Aaron Eckhart) to safety. 
What Works: There is one standout action sequence of London Has Fallen. The climax of the movie involves a protracted shootout that’s mostly captured in one sustained shot (presumably using some invisible edits) and the sequence has some gritty action that the rest of the movie lacks. 
What Doesn’t: Although action movies are frequently lumped together, there are subgenres of action and distinctions should be made between them. In one category are popcorn titles like Die Hard and The Delta Force. These kinds of action movies are descendants of classic westerns. They have straightforward, black-and-white conflicts and there is an implicit agreement between the filmmakers and the audience that the bloodshed will be fun and not traumatizing. In another category are action thrillers like Clear and Present Danger and First Blood. These movies descend from the war film and they are much more serious, have more complicated conflicts, and a different regard for violence. This distinction is at the core of what’s wrong with London Has Fallen. The filmmakers can’t decide what kind of movie they are making and the story is a stupid jumble of incompatible pieces. London Has Fallen opens with an American drone strike that lands in the middle of a wedding and kills most of a family. This motivates the bride’s father, who then becomes the lead villain and the architect of the London attack. That setup is quite serious, like something out of a Tom Clancy adaptation, and it establishes moral complexity. But from then on the moviemakers aren’t interested in that, opting instead for what are supposed to be fun action set pieces. This combination derails the movie. It trivializes real life terrorism but it also prevents the action of the movie from being any fun. In fact, London Has Fallen doesn’t just ignore the complexity that it invokes but actively tries to deny it. The American politicians of this movie acknowledge the fact that their drone strike killed innocent people but they never show any remorse about it and actively defend it. That’s where this movie crosses over from being merely stupid to actively repugnant; whether intentional or not, London Has Fallen defends collateral damage and is a jingoist call for unrestrained global war. It’s also another America-centric film. Many global leaders as well as countless Londoners are killed in the terrorist siege but as this movie would have it all that matters is whether the American president and his bodyguard survive. Aside from all of its thematic problems, London Has Fallen is just a bad movie and in many respects it is worse than its predecessor. Viewers go to a film like this for the action scenes but most of the set pieces of London Has Fallen are mediocre. The chases and shootouts are unimaginatively shot and sloppily edited. The special effects are really bad, especially the helicopter chase that looks like the graphics of a fifteen year old video game. Night scenes are filmed so murkily that’s hard to follow the action. The story is rife with plot holes and other stupid and implausible developments. Playing the lead, Gerard Butler’s character is both uninteresting and odious. He’s given ludicrous dialogue that supposed to be witty but just sounds idiotic, At one point he tortures someone for no reason at all and we are invited to cheer him on. As the president, Aaron Eckhart is wasted as is the supporting cast that includes Melissa Leo, Jackie Earle Haley, Robert Forster, Angela Bassett, and Morgan Freeman. 
Bottom Line: London Has Fallen is a really awful movie. It goes well beyond being a lousy action picture. The filmmakers want to be topical but their movie is just tacky. 

Episode: #586 (March 13, 2016)