London Has Fallen (2016)

Prepare for bloody hell.

When the British Prime Minister dies, American President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart), along with other world leaders, are invited to the state funeral in London. Asher’s close friend and bodyguard Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is on the verge of resigning from the Secret Service to spend time with his pregnant wife Leah (Radha Mitchell), when he reluctantly accepts the assignment to accompany the U.S. President and secure his journey.

Meanwhile, a Pakistani arms dealer and known terrorist Aamir Barkawi (Alon Abutbul) is burning for revenge, after his family were killed by U.S. forces during a drone attack two years ago, the radical hell-bent on using the state funeral to make a statement.

Mr. Freeman's shocked at the rising body count!
Mr. Freeman’s shocked at the rising body count!

Are you a fan of the hit videogame series Call of Duty: Modern Warfare? If so, you’ll be right at home with London Has Fallen, which in many ways feels like an unofficial adaptation to the said weapon-based Activision game. Sound ridiculous? Perhaps, but so too are some of the moments in this wild shoot ‘em up.

Most action films of this ilk might be happy to destroy one major landmark, but the modern sensibility, traceable all the way back to Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day (1996) and reverberating louder than ever with the recent superhero wave — think The Avengers (2012) and Man of Steel (2013) — tend to suggest that ‘more is more.’ London Has Fallen goes for broke using several iconic London locations to unleash its sadistic chaos within the space of about ten minutes. London Bridge does indeed fall down, as does Big Ben, heck even the Thames gets blasted. If you’re looking to get ‘bang for your buck,’ it’s definitely happening right here. Despite this, there are a couple of surprising aspects to the narrative development of this otherwise relentless ‘shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later’ flick.

For starters, the opening act is very slow and not even in a tension-building sort of way, more like a poor attempt to humanize characters through exposition rather than gunfire. One would expect that a straight-up genre picture such as this would hit the accelerator from the get-go and keep that momentum running all the way to the end credits, but not so here. You could casually walk in at the twenty-minute mark and not really have missed out on much.

The next point to consider, introduced in the opening sequence, yet never really capitalized on, is the idea of mistakes in war. There is a passing moment of understanding that the American military made a tragic call in bombing a wedding in order to target the terrorist Barkawi. It almost suggests that the terrorist attacks could’ve been avoided altogether — if this was explored further it could’ve added more dimension to the characters along with a discussion on the murky grey areas of modern warfare. But who am I kidding? This was never going to be that kind of film.

Still a machine-gun preacher ...
Still a machine-gun preacher …

No surprise to fans of its Antoine Fuqua directed predecessor Olympus Has Fallen (2013), what we have in this sequel is a very cold and mean, death-dealing machine. Tonally, there are excessively violent moments that don’t paint the chief players in an especially heroic light. After a brutal moment of torture at the hands of our hero Mike Banning, a shocked President Asher queries ‘Was that really necessary?’ to which Banning quips ‘No.’ That underlying bloodlust is what guides the body count to soar to an absurd number in the shortest amount of time.

Iranian director Babak Najafi, Sebbe (2010), making his first foray into Hollywood, demonstrates a solid grasp of what hardcore action fans want and realizes it with some ambition. A one-shot raid at night is a highlight of high-octane choreography, clearly inspired by Call of Duty, taking on a pseudo first-person like perspective, following Banning as he weaves through a hail of bullets, then crawls up a nearby building, before finally launching across through a window, in a manner akin to a similarly stunning stunt in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007).

Leading macho man Gerard Butler, Gods of Egypt (2016), is clearly relishing the role of Mike Banning (again), having also served as one of the film’s producers. It wouldn’t surprise me if a third outing does happen, provided London Has Fallen can crack a decent profit.

On the supporting side of things, Morgan Freeman, Lucy (2014), has a welcoming presence as always, Aaron Eckhart, I, Frankenstein (2014), seems a little bummed that he’s not performing any Gung-ho heroics, but it’s Angela Bassett, Green Lantern (2011), as Secret Service Director Lynne Jacobs who leaves the firmest impression in her short screen time. I really think Bassett deserves a meatier role to remind audiences of her capabilities.

‘Hey, you got one of those machine-guns for me?’
‘Hey, you got one of those machine-guns for me?’

In some ways, I feel movies like this exist to exorcise the extreme emotions of seeing terrorism on our TV news. Where superhero flicks may sway towards to a fantastical portrayal and the hope of good, pictures like this are more akin to horror fare — projecting our fears onscreen and taking us through a journey of survival. As such, this is a hard-hitting bloody actioner for a very particular audience, with the rest likely to be revolted by the relentless barrage of blood n’ bullets.

The key to accepting the experience for what is, is to understand, despite its moments of silliness, it’s actually a brutally honest portrayal of violence, away from the heavily sanitized world of PG-13 we’ve become accustomed to as the norm. Innocents die, everyone bleeds and Special Forces soldiers kill as they are trained to do.

Prepare for bloody hell, indeed.

3 / 5 – Good

Reviewed by Steve Ramsie

London Has Fallen is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia