London Has Fallen (2016) – Movie Review
London Has Fallen
Directed by: Babak Najafi
Written by: Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt, Chad St. John & Christian Gudegast
Starring: Gerald Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Charlotte Riley & Alon Abutbul
Music: Trevor Morris
Release Date: March 3rd 2016
2013 was a banner year for movies concerning terrorists taking over the White House. In 2012 a popular spec script was discovered in Hollywood by Sony Pictures and FilmDistrict. The former quickly started production on ‘White House Down‘ which released in June 2013 whereas the latter, despite starting production later, was able to quickly cast, film and release ‘Olympus has Fallen‘ in March 2013. While critical consensus favoured ‘White House Down‘, it made less money despite having a bigger budget as ‘Olympus Has Fallen‘ managed to be a surprisingly big hit.
Money talks and even though no one was asking for it, we got a sequel which reunites most of the original cast but a different director and a bigger writing team. ‘Olympus Has Fallen‘ was a throwback to macho-80s action movies but will the formula work twice and across the pond in ‘London Has Fallen‘? Or does the “all-American” patriotism in this franchises’ DNA prevent it from resonating overseas?
A few years after the events of ‘Olympus Has Fallen‘, Mike Banning (Butler) is still the President of the United States; Benjamin Asher’s (Eckhart), personal bodyguard, but with a child on the way he’s on the brink of retirement. However, when the U.K. Prime Minister is killed under mysterious circumstances, all the leaders of the world gather in London for the funeral. However, a series of highly-organised terrorist attacks decimates the British capitol and wipes out most of the world leaders, except for the U.S. President who is trying to escape with Banning. But the terrorists want to publicly execute Asher and broadcast is live for the world to see. It’s up to Banning to save the President, get out of London and stop the Terrorist’s plan.
‘London Has Fallen‘, while technically a sequel, is essentially a standalone story and the characters are so lacking in dimension that you don’t need to have watched the first one in order to understand what’s going on here. In fact, the characters and plot are so simplistic, I can’t even begin to fathom why this movie needed four screenwriters? While ‘Olympus Has Fallen‘ was jingoistic and stupid, ‘London Has Fallen‘, over the course of the movie, reveals itself to be much more mean-spirited, openly xenophobic and so utterly lacking in nuance to communicate its political message.
The movie opens with innocent people being killed in a drone strike in Pakistan. In retaliation, local arms dealer, Aamir Barkawi, plans an elaborate terrorist attack by assassinating the U.K. Prime Minister and using the funeral as a means to gather all the world leaders together to kill all of them. Now, obviously Aamir Barkawi is a terrorist leader and his actions should be condemned, but ‘London Has Fallen‘ fails to realise that it was the U.S. Drone-Strikes that prompted this retaliation in the first place. Normally, the best way to find out if your movie’s moral compass is on the correct path is by having second opinions and others work on the writing process, however with a writing team of four it’s clear that ‘London Has Fallen‘ was creatively fuelled by a hate-filled, xenophobic echo-chamber. It’s like the movie was written by a group of 15 year olds who spend all day trolling YouTube comments.
The terrorists infiltrate the U.K. police and emergency services and it’s hard NOT to feel uncomfortable when the attacks start and you see the police unmask themselves and 90% of them are dark-skinned and bearded. In this currant cultural climate, to present the “real” enemy of the movie to be Middle-Easterns in a position of authority, ‘London Has Fallen‘ is possibly the most irresponsible movie since ‘Fifty Shades of Grey‘. It feels so counter-intuitive to have a scene where the German Prime Minister allows a young white girl to walk past security to give her a flower, but for the same movie to paint 90% of the Police Force as Terrorists in disguise who should not be trusted.
However, our main hero, Mike Banning is an absolute psychopath who frequently commits war crimes, never takes any prisoners and often resorts to torture for fun. After one sequence where he twists a knife into a terrorist’s hip so his family can hear the screams from the other end of a walkie-talkie, the President asks him if that was necessary, to which Mike replies “Nope” before walking off. It’s meant to be a moment of punch-the-air, America fuck-yeah badassness but it makes you wonder why this clearly mentally unstable, prone-to-violence character is the “hero” of the movie. It’s astonishingly tone-deaf and it’s clear that the writers inspirations for the movie are coming from a place of deep-seated hatred.
At the end of the movie, when it comes to taking down one of the people in London who was behind the attacks, he is held at gun-point and unarmed but instead being incapacitated and being shot in the leg to be taken in for questioning and given a trial, they’re just shot in the head without a second thought. In some countries, that is considered a war crime but in ‘London Has Fallen‘ it’s a final “America, fuck yeah!” pay-off before the credits roll.
‘London Has Fallen‘ is a thoroughly unpleasant movie and in terms of American pro-war propaganda, it’s the worst instance of this since ‘American Sniper‘ and despite U.S. drone warfare being the cause of the events that resulted in the death of hundreds of innocent civilians in London, the movie ends with the Vice President, played by a sleep-walking Morgan Freeman, giving a speech saying that drone warfare is necessary because it’s better to do something than do nothing in these uncertain times.
Uncertain times that America started and doing “something” with drone strikes has resulted in 80% of the ESTIMATED deaths (because the U.S. government don’t even know who they’re killing or how many) from those strikes being innocent civilians including children.
I know people are going to chastise me for bringing politics into this review, but how can you not when ‘London Has Fallen‘ THRIVES on instilling a political climate of fear and distrust to its audience? I’m meeting the movie on its terms and it’s unapologetically racist, xenophobic and ignorant of current recent political events to an irresponsible degree. And despite taking place in London, none of the other countries in the world that have gathered there are competent enough to take down the terrorists and only ‘Murica can save the day.
While we may disagree about the merits of drone-warfare there are legitimate points on both sides of the argument, but ‘London Has Fallen‘ refuses to have these discussions as an actual adult. We still get the dumb “just because” narrative sensibilities of bad 80s action movies, like just how incredibly precise the terrorist strikes are in London as they somehow know where all the leaders are going to be without fail…despite plans continually changing hours before the event actually takes place. Banning is seemingly immortal and the dialogue is so terribly written I can’t believe it was actually spoken by the actors without objection.
Immediately after the terribly CGI’d attacks on London’s iconic landmarks, a news reporter says that “Most of London’s known landmarks have been decimated”, or words to that effect. So I’m guessing London’s “unknown” landmarks are completely fine, yeah? As Banning and Asher escape London via helicopter, when Banning is told that the terrorists must have been planning this attack for years, he responds with “They only needed to get it right once. And they did more than that”.
Fucking what? Are there more attacks that they did that no one else knows about? This movie had four-writers who actually got PAID for this fucking nonsense?
Performance wise, Aaron Eckhart is the stand-out, but that’s only because he actually gets to do something in this movie other than be hand-cuffed to a radiator, Morgan Freeman phones it in and I don’t think he actually shares the screen with any of the main characters (he has a body-double in the credits) and Gerald Butler…yeah, he’s right for the role and he’s absolutely up for everything that’s thrown at him but he approaches the character with such a ferocity that it just further solidifies that Mike Banning is an absolute nut-case. When your hero is more despicable and blood-hungry than the terrorists he’s supposed to be fighting…something has gone wrong there.
Production-wise, the on-location work in London is effective and thankfully once the attacks happen the citizens hide inside their homes instead of becoming collateral damage on the streets because that would be bad (but collateral damage from U.S. drone strikes is…okay, apparently?). However, the “money-shots” of London landmarks being destroyed are absolutely terrible. The first explosion that happens in the middle of a street looks like it was a stock explosion pasted on top of the footage through Windows Movie Maker. The stock footage is excessive and obvious, the green-screen work is hackneyed, there’s a terrible helicopter crash and the production values might have been considered lower-tier in 2006 but in 2016 it’s inexcusable shoddy.
HOWEVER…I will give mad props to the stunt-team and the stunt-drivers as there are some cool moments that showcase their talents in ‘London Has Fallen‘. But the M.V.P. of this movie is whoever was the camera-operator during a faux-single shot action set piece nearer the end of the movie and how he jumped into a building with Gerald Butler (or his stunt-man). That shot was pretty awesome and is literally the only thing of note in ‘London Has Fallen‘ because the music, make-up and editing really don’t hold up under scrutiny. It almost makes me want to give this movie a slighter higher rating than I’m about to…and then I realise that ‘London Has Fallen‘ is hate filled, pro-America, xenophobic propaganda and then I come right back down to earth.
Real talk here; I’m not saying that movies can’t support ideologies that I disagree with. That’s the great thing about movies because they allow story-tellers to communicate with large audiences. However, with that ability must come a form of responsibility. When a movie comes out and frames 90% of the London Police Force as Middle-Eastern terrorists, promotes drone-strikes with zero political frame-of-reference, condones war-crimes or the killing of criminals without cause or due process, makes its main hero an utter maniac so you almost want to root for the terrorists he’s fighting…in THIS current political climate, then that is irresponsible and dangerous film-making. And to be shoddily made and badly written on top of that is just the icing on this hate-filled movie. It’s amazing that the central premise of this movie is to stop the U.S. President from being killed as terrorist propaganda, yet it’s completely tone-deaf in its own xenophobic, hate-filled and immature pro-America propaganda.
‘London Has Fallen‘ is sure to become a staple in the DVD collections of Donald Trump supporters for years to come. And it makes me genuinely disturbed that a movie like this can not only be written, but can also be green-lit, given a $60M budget and made into a movie intended for wide-release.
I give ‘London Has Fallen‘ 0 stars out of 5.
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Posted: 13th Mar 16