The surprise 2013 hit Olympus Has Fallen, one of two action blockbusters that year to feature an attack on the White House, was basically Die Hard in the West Wing. As Secret Service agent Mike Banning, Gerard Butler played the Bruce Willis role, rescuing captive President Mike Asher (Aaron Eckhart) from a gang of terrorists. The new sequel, London Has Fallen, implausibly ups its predecessor’s stakes to Die Hard in the City of London. Unfortunately, widening the scope this dramatically causes the entire fragile action-movie axis to spin wildly out of control.
When the movie begins, Banning is thinking of quitting the Secret Service to spend more time with his wife (Radha Mitchell) and their expected baby. But naturally, disaster strikes. The English Prime Minister’s death requires all world leaders to assemble in London for a state funeral. Incredibly, London streets are not shut down or so much as cordoned off, leaving global dignitaries (accompanied by perhaps one security guard each) stuck in traffic. This makes them vulnerable to a sudden attack by a terrorist network that has somehow managed to infiltrate the London police force. These terrorists assassinate most of these world leaders and also blow up a bunch of monuments, for some reason. Asher and Banning escape, but just barely. They then have to make their way through the streets of London (which went from overcrowded to wasteland empty in about five minutes) to the safety of the U.S. embassy, all while dodging the remaining terrorists. They finally find a helpful MI6 agent (Charlotte Riley), and occasionally receive dispatches from Vice President Allan Trumbull, which doesn’t seem to help anyone very much but is a good excuse to get Morgan Freeman in the movie.
By casting its villain as a suspiciously ISIS-like Middle Eastern terrorist network, London Has Fallen makes itself into a political movie—but its politics are heinous. The whole global conflict is set in motion by an opening sequence in which the U.S. military, authorized by Asher, drone-strikes a Pakistani wedding in hopes of killing international arms dealer Aamir Barkawi (Alon Moni Aboutboul). This blatant war crime is not only completely unsuccessful at killing Barkawi (instead inspiring his wide-scale revenge attack), it’s also never criticized or questioned. When the terrorists mention it, Asher derides their justified anger as “insanity.” At one point, Banning even tells one of the terrorists to “head back to F—headistan or wherever you’re from.” (Incidentally, this racism extends to the terrorists speaking accented English the whole movie, where the European leaders are given the luxury of subtitles). There is not a single reference to “radical Islam,” but the way Barkawi and Trumbull talk, London Has Fallen’s plot is unmistakably meant to simulate a “clash of civilizations.”
But even beyond the politics, London Has Fallen’s action doesn’t make sense. At one point, Banning takes out a whole heavily armed Delta-Force squad of terrorists with nothing but a knife. None of these commandos so much as shoot at him, and in fact seem quite content to let him take them out one by one. Some of these action sequences are shot so confusingly that Banning appears to be multiple people.
The movie asks for too much suspension of disbelief. A trained, violence-prone cop like John McClane taking out an unprepared goon squad is one thing; one raging idiot with a knife massacring a city-wide army of terrorists is quite another. Banning even tries McClane’s tactic of radioing the terrorist leader to mock him, but in this case, it serves absolutely no strategic purpose. It does give Butler the chance to say “f—” a lot, though, which the film seems to think is quite funny.
London Has Fallen’s main characters have a strange disregard for technology. They scoff at YouTube and undefined “social media,” although maybe if they had paid more attention to Twitter they would have known that terrorists were planning a massive attack on a global metropolis. Instead, the movie posits that the solution to every problem is the classic heroic daydream that a bad guy with a gun can be stopped by a good guy with a gun. Only in a movie whose characters manage to walk away from helicopter crashes, grenade launchers, fiery explosions, and near-decapitations with nary a scratch is that fantasy a remote possibility. C–