On paper, London Has Fallen pretty much obeys the rule of the sequel. The stakes are raised, the location changed, the core characters are back, and more of the same is promised. Promised, but not, in this case delivered.
This time around, Gerard Butler returns as secret service agent Mike Banning, once again charged with protecting US President Benjamin Asher, played by Aaron Eckhardt. Banning, we quickly learn, is a family man these days, with his wife on the verge of giving birth, and him gazing at a saved template resignation letter on his Macbook.
There’s an early clue there: the fact that Banning uses an Apple Mac when virtually everyone else in the film is on Dell PCs is one of the few attempts made to differentiate one character from another. For much of the rest of the time, the movie keeps most of its supporting characters in darkness, content to let them earn a living by running towards gunfire flashes. But we’ll come to that shortly.
For London Has Fallen starts going wrong quickly, sadly.
The opening of Olympus Has Fallen was arresting, beginning with something that set the stakes for the rest of the film, whilst throwing in a genuine element of surprise. As soon as we hear here early on in this sequel that the UK prime minister has died, and a state funeral is being organized, you can predict what’s going to happen next. You subsequently earn yourself no prizes at all when you tick most of it off your list. World leaders congregate on London, happy to play to cliché as it introduces them (you don’t have to look far to see who the Italian Prime Minister is based on, for instance). Then shit hits the fan.
At the point, then, that London Has Fallen should be injecting peril, and setting the bar high for the rest of the movie, it spends its setup giving a presentation on the perils of a modern day digital sequel.
London is apparently attacked, and yet it just looks cheap, with overhead shots resembling a videogame from a decade ago. The streets of the city should be packed, but we rarely see that. It feels like half the extras didn’t turn up. There should be a sense of panic, but it never comes across.
The starting pistol for the movie never convincingly fires.
Still, Banning and President Asher are soon, through a set of circumstances that it’s best not to think about too much, making their way across a deserted London. A president, lost on the streets of a hostile city? I’d be lying if I said that my attention didn’t suddenly spike at the thought of a John Carpenter homage, or something that captures Carpenter’s style as effectively as The Purge: Anarchy did.
No such luck here. Tension, stakes, character? None of it resonates. Even the action sequences could have been lifted out of a lesser Call Of Duty sequence, right down to the point of introducing a Scottish sidekick at one stage. There’s a whole sense of ‘that’ll do’ about the whole thing. And it really won’t.
The script, in particular, is some achievement. Credited to four writers, it actually feels as though it’s been penned by Donald Trump, using a quality-sapping wax crayon that was pitched to him by someone he fired on week one of The Apprentice. Heck, it’s as if the depiction of any national not of American origin has been ripped right off the Daily Mail website. At one stage I pictured in my mind Trump, Katie Hopkins, Nigel Farage and most of Fox News at an early screening, wondering if between them they could sneak the film onto the Oscar ballot.
Yet even technically, London Has Fallen falters. There are so many sequences that are dimly lit to the point where you genuinely can’t see what’s going on. Actors stand slap bang in the middle of the frame, delivering their lines and moving on. Lines are even quoted that seem to paying homage to the likes of Predator and Con Air. It’s rarely a wise move to invoke such films in the middle of such a bland action movie.
At least London Has Fallen has something in its corner, though. Whether you’re a fan of Gerard Butler’s blunt approach to action violence or not, you can’t deny his commitment. He generates the film’s few laughs through some brutal dialogue delivery. Furthermore, half way through, the movie basically gives up and just turns him into a knife-wielding Terminator, and Butler is game for it. It’s what lifts London Has Fallen away from the cesspit that Die Hard 5 lies at the bottom of. In that film, Bruce Willis didn’t look like he cared. Here, Butler very clearly does, and he just about heaves the whole endeavour into low two-star territory.
But this is still a poor action film, a digital sequel that wastes its generous budget – over $100m, staggeringly (the catering must have been brilliant) – on something The Purge: Anarchy did at a fraction of the cost. Sporadic signs of life attempt gamely to paper over the politically dubious narrative, the fact that Morgan Freeman seems to be giving the same speech he gave in Deep Impact, and that the action is put to shame by the growing library of impressive DTV genre movies.
Yet it’s not enough. London Has Fallen is why people complain about sequels. And in this instance, they’re absolutely right to.
London Has Fallen is in UK cinemas from March 3rd.
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