Review: London Has Fallen
PLOT: After a terrorist attack on London ends with most of the leaders of the Western world dead, it's up to Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) to keep the U.S president alive until an extraction team can reach them.
REVIEW: OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN was one of the most unlikely sleeper hits in recent memory. A few years ago, Gerard Butler's career seemed to be on the down-slide, and with the mega-budget, similarly-themed WHITE HOUSE DOWN due in theaters a few months later, no one thought OLYMPUS would do much business. Happily for hardcore action fans, director Antoine Fuqua pulled-off a really fun, DIE HARD-style, hardcore action thriller that raked in the bucks and left WHITE HOUSE DOWN in the dust.
Flash-forward three years and the only thing that's surprising about LONDON HAS FALLEN is that it took this long for Millennium Films to put together a sequel. Now that Fuqua's strictly A-list, there’s a new director at the helm, Babak Najafi, who's best known for directing the sequel to the Swedish hit EASY MONEY (aka SNABBA CASH).
As a result, LONDON HAS FALLEN lacks the big-screen, cinematic appeal of the first film, coming off more like an ultra-violent, epic episode of 24. While OLYMPUS was goofy, Fuqua really knew how to make the film seem big despite a modest budget. While this one apparently cost much more, you'd never know it were it not for the abundance of CGI during the big attack on London scene that sets the plot in motion.
Running a scant ninety-nine minutes, this really does feel like a quickie sequel, right down to the way some of the first film's cast-members are shoe-horned into tiny roles. Melissa Leo, who had a few really powerful scenes in the first film (her torture scene was harrowing) has only a handful of lines. The same goes for Jackie Earle Haley, while Robert Forster is essentially an extra. Even Morgan Freeman seems to have shot his scenes in about a day. He only interacts with Butler once, and it's clear they weren't in the same place, with the scene being clumsily executed with body doubles and one-shots.
Despite all this, I still kinda liked LONDON HAS FALLEN. While the first half-hour is pretty dire, with the establishing shots of the various world leaders ludicrously playing up every stereotype (the Canadian P.M is a nice guy, the French president doesn't want to leave his yacht, the Italian P.M is chasing girls, etc), once the action kicks-in the movie is worth watching for action fans. Gerard Butler may have embarrassed himself somewhat in GODS OF EGYPT, but he's in fine form here. He's a terrific action hero, and while his one liners are really weak (including the wince-inducing “go back to F**khead-istan”) he looks like he's having the time of his life. Mike Banning is a great character for him who could easily sustain a franchise.
What's even better is that the action stays more along the lines of the first film in that it's a solid mix of gunfights, hand-to-hand and knife-play. It's shot in a clear, easy to make-out way with the glorious R-rating meaning nothing is toned down. Butler even gives the character a hint of sadism, with even Aaron Eckhart's tough-guy president wincing when Banning slowly suffocates one baddie, and brutally tortures another for no real reason. The body count is massive, with Butler sending more bad-guys to their maker than any action hero vacationing in Britain since DEATH WISH 3 (OK – that wasn't set in London but it was clearly shot there).
While Najafi doesn't have Fuqua's chops, there are some well-crafted scenes, including two tracking shots towards the end that are quite cool, even if this device is starting to become a cliché. The screenplay also leaves much to be desired, with it simply a skeleton the producers can hang action scenes on. The bad guys aren't memorable at all, with the main ring-leader being an arms dealer upset because a drone strike launched by the president killed his daughter. As is the first one, LONDON HAS FALLEN is jingoistic to the extreme, with Banning even lecturing a bad guy on the might of America before doing him in. The British are mostly sidelined, with Scotland Yard and MI5 being depicted as full of double-agents, with only Charlotte Riley's deep-cover agent having any kind of substantial part.
Without a doubt, LONDON HAS FALLEN is pretty dumb, but when it works it's also good fun. I'd put it at least a few notches below its predecessor, but even still it's a solid ninety minutes of entertainment. However, if this franchise is going to sustain itself and not suffer the same fate as TAKEN, they've got to spin Banning-off on a solo adventure away from the president and the White House. Butler and the character could easily lead a major franchise, and it's a shame the people involved didn’t make the sequel a little more ambitious.
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