Sunday, July 31, 2016

London Has Fallen: A Review (Review #830)


Of all the things I thought 2016 needed, a sequel to Olympus Has Fallen was not one of them.  The unoriginal title London Has Fallen belies a good, though by no means great, film, worthy of its predecessor.  In other words, London Has Fallen is pretty much like Olympus Has Fallen: lots of action, little of logic, but enjoyable nonetheless.

Arms dealer Amir Barkawi (Alon Aboutboul) is targeted for assassination via drone at his daughter's wedding.  As is the case in these things, the target is not taken out.  Instead, we figure it's his daughter who bites the dust, and some of his sons are injured or left in wheelchairs.  Naturally, this calls for revenge.  As Barkawi himself tells one of his sons prior to the drone attack, "Vengeance must always be profound and absolute".

Two years later, we are in the sixth year of the Presidency of Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart).  In that time, he still has his friend/Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) at his side.  Asher also has as his Vice President Alan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman), who last time round was Speaker of the House.

As a side note, this makes me think that we are maybe three years away from the events of Olympus Has Fallen.  We've had Asher reelected, and I figure Trumbull was on his ticket, taking the place of the murdered Vice President from last time.  Oh, why am I applying logic to all this?

Banning now has a wife (Radha Mitchell) who is due in two weeks.  With these responsibilities, Banning seriously considers resigning from the Secret Service to devote himself to a less dangerous job.

Well, duty comes first, and that duty means attending the state funeral of the British Prime Minister, who died suddenly after routine surgery.  All the world leaders (minus the Russian President) are attending: we've got the randy Italian Prime Minister, the family-oriented Canadian PM, the businesslike French President, the somewhat dour female German Chancellor, the slightly disinterested Japanese Prime Minister, and the stoic American President.  Secret Service Director Lynne Jacobs (Angela Bassett) is worried about the rushed security details, and more irritated by how the British are not accommodating any foreign heads security, insisting they could do it on their own.

As the various world leaders arrive in London, they are either on route or attending other matters (the German Chancellor attending a troop review at Buckingham Palace, the Italian Prime Minister having a private tour of Westminster Abbey with his much-younger wife or mistress, the French President aboard a small yacht reading papers).  Only the  Canadian and Japanese PMs are on route, with President Asher arriving at St. Paul's Cathedral.

It's at this point that Barkawi's master-plan is unleashed.  In rapid succession, the Canadian Prime Minister's car is blown up, the bridge on which the Japanese Prime Minister is stuck in traffic is also blown up (drowning him), the German Chancellor is gunned down by terrorists disguised as troops (think Indira Gandhi's assassination by her Sikh bodyguards), the French President's boat is blown up by a rigged trash ship floating nearby (the blast so great it blows the windows of the Houses of Parliament), and one of the bell-towers of Westminster is blown up too.  A barrage of gunfire attacks the American President as his party is about to enter St. Paul's, but unlike all those foreign powers, none of them had Mike Banning.

He manages to spirit himself, the President, and Lynne out and makes a desperate rush to Marine One, which should take them to the American airbase and back to safety.  As is the case, this isn't going to go well.  After managing to get to Marine One, the Presidential helicopter and the decoys are hit, and Lynne, who was to be the Banning child's godmother, is killed.

Now Banning must protect President Asher and keep one step ahead of those attempting a truly horrifying plan: to kill the President of the United States live online.  Using all kinds of technology, along with Banning's super-killing skills, they attempt to get to the U.S. Embassy.  As things go of course, they are intercepted, Asher taken, and now it's up to Banning, along with an elite U.K. commando squad, to rescue the President.

In many ways, I cannot help think that London Has Fallen, like its predecessor, is long on action, short on logic, and that's how they like it.  The film makes no apologies for keeping to traditional action film clichés: the uber-strong lead who has sometimes outlandish killing skills, the mole deep within the organization, even the quips.

At one point, Banning hides the President in the closet, and when Banning comes close to being killed himself, Asher emerges to kill the terrorist (the only time the violence-averse Commander-in-Chief takes any action).  "I was wondering when you were going to come out of the closet," Banning says, to which an irritated Asher replies, "That's not even funny".

I figure this reflected Eckhart's irritation at the whole endeavor, as he was given little to do other than to be extremely passive, almost apologetic for all the carnage being released.  At one point, Asher meditates on the violence going on around him, wondering about all those killed.  Banning, for his part, has no patience for this navel-gazing, which I figure is brought about by a more black-and-white worldview, one where you kill those who want to kill you and don't bother asking questions.

Still, Aaron Eckhart is one of our best actors around, woefully underused and more so here.  Same for Bassett, who I figure was thrilled to see her character killed off so as to not appear in another ...Has Fallen film.  Maybe she knew London Has Fallen was not going to add to her resume and played it as more something to get through.  Part of it was the script, for during the long chase scene Lynne was reduced to a screaming, crying woman.  Her death scene honestly elicited more giggles than tears, but I'm not blaming Bassett herself.  She's too good an actress to give bad performances.

About the only people to play any of this seriously are Butler and Freeman.  In the case of the former, he knows his role requires only brutal takedowns of his opponents, no matter how outlandish his killing style is.  His Banning is uncomplicated in his approach, having no problem killing one of Amir's sons and having his brothers hear his slow death.  In the case of the latter, he uses his stoicism, steadiness, and voice to command a situation that is almost beyond his control.

London Has Fallen doesn't ask us or require us to think through the plot.  It requires us, like Banning and the President, to move forward and not worry about things that appear but don't get any real importance.  You know Banning has a soft side because he's going to be a father (one guess what his new daughter's name will be), and you hear Asher talk about his son (Asher's son is even close to speaking to his father via Skype before the President hears about the Prime Minister's death), but Connor Asher never actually appears.  These supporting characters are there to give the main characters 'backstories', but they might as well be cut out for all their importance.

I'd like to take a brief moment to address charges of bigotry against the film.  The film clearly rejects moral equivalency between the deaths of Amir's family and those of the people killed by his arms dealing.  Every time Amir or his sons attempts to suggest that the deaths they endured are somehow the cause of what happened, Banning, Asher, and Trumbull slap such notions down flat.  I think Asher, but more likely Banning, quickly reject the idea for sympathy for one of the brothers, who says he held his sister in his arms as she died.  If memory serves correct, Asher/Banning state they brought this upon themselves through their arms trading.  When Amir tells Trumbull that this war was brought to them by America/the West, Trumbull tells Amir that he sells weapons to those who kill, so again the fault lies with Amir, not the West.

From my viewpoint, London Has Fallen isn't xenophobic (not even when Banning tells them to go back "F***headistan" or wherever they came from).  It certainly doesn't show any sympathy for those attacking them, but it also doesn't portray all Arabs/Pakistanis/Muslims as terrorists themselves.  It is more concerned with arms dealing than with Islamofascism, so I cannot find overt calls to attack anyone based on their religion.  In short, I don't think the film itself is bigoted, merely using the most current villains around to wrap its story around.

London Has Fallen is not a classic, not particularly logical, or particularly good.  However, it knows what it is: an action film that wants to entertain with sometimes outlandish action and a pretty out-there plot.  I wouldn't call it a romp, but something that can be seen as mild entertainment with little to trouble us in terms of actual story or logic.  I cannot hate a film that meets its goals, no matter how low they are.  As such, London Has Fallen is worthy of its predecessor, but if I were President Asher, I'd consider simply not leaving the country and be thankful he'll never run for office again.



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