(UK/USA/Bulgaria, 99 min.)
Dir. Babak Najafi, Writ. Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt, Christian Gudegast, Chad St. John
Starring: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Radha Mitchell, Jackie Earle Haley, Melissa Leo
Pip pip, motherfuckers! The London Bridge might be falling down, but Gerard Butler can save the world by teatime. Butler returns as butt-kicking Secret Service agent Mike Banning, the dedicated officer sworn to protect American President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) from disaster. London Has Fallen follows the enormously successful Olympus Has Fallen in which Banning risked his skin to save the POTUS, but one doesn’t need to have seen the first film to enjoy the second. London Has Fallen brings nonstop action as it unleashes a cartoonishly extravagant web of chaos and calamity on the regal English city. It’s wonderfully ridiculous no-holds-barred entertainment.
The film puts Banning and President Asher in another perilous scenario when several of the free world’s leaders become targets of ISIS-inspired terrorists. The top leaders are all in London to pay their respects to the recently deceased British Prime Minister, but some well-coordinated attacks leave several Chiefs of State dead. In a moment that’s bound to strike a nerve with Canadian audiences, one of these casualties is the Canadian Prime Minister, although he bears a decent resemblance to Stephen Harper, so the moment might be a joyous one for certain viewers. London Has Fallen opens with a riveting and surprising action sequence that highlights the shaky uncertainty of today’s troubled times, as nobody is safe on seemingly secure soil.
The Yanks, however, know they’re heading into a good old-fashioned clusterfuck, so Banning and his superior, Lynne (Angela Bassett, in a wonderfully campy performance), strategize and are therefore moderately prepared for the ambush. The President’s head is on the line, so Banning leads a cat and mouse game as they evade the evil doers. In the meantime, a quorum of well-paid Hollywood actors including Robert Forster, Jackie Earle Haley, and Melissa Leo, presumably all on retainer for a one or two day shoot, watch the action from a
studio lot secure location as Vice President Trumball
(Morgan Freeman) offers guidance from afar.
London Has Fallen gives audiences exactly what they expect as Butler and company deliver breathless action and double down on the zeitgeist. The film has ample resonance to contemporary fears of terrorism, surveillance, and security, and while the pendulum of Big Ben swings a fair bit to the right, London Has Fallen never takes itself too seriously for one to find fault. It’s not so much a political film as much as a well-oiled genre pic that unleashes bullets with an extra sting.
Butler offers a sturdy action star with his big guns, double-barreled jingoism, and flushed fury. And while his Scottish brogue creeps into the dialogue, which is laden with groaners from 1990s actioners, it works surprisingly well with the London setting, as if Banning is Bond on steroids or high on Uncle Sam. The supporting cast is generally fun in a mix of roles that range from compelling to ones that cry ‘PAYCHECK!’ with Eckhart getting right into the action in a presidential manner, while Bassett is a hoot as an over-the-top suit. Freeman, meanwhile, is perfectly cool and commanding from the control room, and the key player of the supporting cast who’s happy to work for his Benjamins.
The presence of Middle Eastern terrorists is bound to inspire some disgruntlement, which is inevitable when a film draws on real world fears, but the London Has Fallen nevertheless taps into prevalent currents of xenophobia and Islamophobia perpetuated in the media. However, the film also balances the inclusiveness of its cast rather well with Freeman, Bassett, and Leo assuming roles of top-level government players and with Colin Salmon (a familiar face to fans of the Pierce Brosnan 007 films) and Charlotte Riley (Edge of Tomorrow) having notable supporting roles.
While the film treads a dangerous line with Butler dropping zingers about sending jihadists back to Fuckheadistan before putting a cap in them and/or hacking them to bits, everything in London Has Fallen is so extreme—the violence, the fury, the mayhem, the carnage, and the terror—that it never purports to realism. But therein lies the strange element that makes London Has Fallen work despite all its silliness and political incorrectness: while it plays like an action film from the heydays of Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, London Has Fallen feels as if it could legitimately happen today. The action isn’t implausible and one sees the parallels to real world acts of terror. This grain of authenticity doesn’t legitimise Banning’s hotheaded patriotism, which often treads self-parody, but it certainly makes for one of the most engaging action adventures in a while. London Has Fallen is a wild, adrenaline-charged ride with lots of cream and sugar.
London Has Fallen opens in theatres March 4 from VVS Films.