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London Has Fallen is the cinematic equivalent of a porterhouse steak surrounded by two pounds of ground chuck, drizzled with thick brown gravy and served with a starchy baked potato. If it’s indestructible hero, Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), describes himself as consisting of “bourbon and bad choices,” then the movie that contains him consists of “clichés and bad CGI.” Fallen also happens to be about as right-wing and uber-patriotic as a mainstream film can be, so much so that I expected there to be a mid-credits scene where Banning re-appears long enough to endorse Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
And yet, that’s exactly what fans of London Has Fallen will want after embracing its predecessor – the ambitiously violent and surprisingly mean-spirited Olympus Has Fallen -- and willfully bellying up for a second helping of Banning-distributed vengeance. Olympus was the angrier of the two White-House-under-siege thrillers released back in 2013. Directed by Antoine Fuqua, the original film introduced fallen Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Butler), who failed to protect the First Lady (Ashley Judd) during a vehicular incident. Banning redeems himself one day when terrorists invade our nation’s capital, and the former Army Ranger murders a small army in the name of self-defense.
As most sequels do, London Has Fallen recycles what worked the first time, but shifts the action to a new location. The premise triggering this second chapter actually has potential, as a terrorist family – upset over the fact that their family wedding was bombed two years prior – murders Great Britain’s Prime Minister, luring the world’s top leaders to London for an unexpected, impromptu funeral. The whole thing’s a trap, and only Banning recognizes it. Because they’re able to survive the initial assault, Banning and his charge – U.S. President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) – must scurry around Londontown, avoiding terrorists at every turn and looking for any sort of ally while they’re stuck behind enemy lines.
Years ago, I would have embraced the type of movie that London Has Fallen is happy to be – straight-laced, overly macho, unapologetically xenophobic, conventionally staged and wholly predictable. The sequel might have starred a young Schwarzenegger or Stallone (or a Jean Claude Van Damme, if the heavy hitters weren’t looking for a new franchise), and it’d have built its audience with an endless loop of replays on HBO.
But the action genre has grown and evolved over the years, and the audience for action movies is supposed to have evolved and matured as well, yet London Has Fallen feels stuck in a timeframe that’s no longer relevant… or even exciting. The set pieces in London are rote, and endless array of shootouts that never put the unstoppable Banning in any real danger. It doesn’t help that 24 recently dedicated a shortened season to, essentially, the same storyline that’s playing out in London Has Fallen. (And with all due respect, Mr. Butler, you are NO Kiefer Sutherland, and Mike Banning is no Jack Bauer.) Even when London steps up its game, because new director Babak Najafi (replacing Fuqua) stages a scenario involving helicopters and rockets, sketchy CGI that looks laughably unfinished drain any tension.
Still, critics (myself included) said similar dismissive remarks about Olympus, yet audiences voted at the ticket counter with their hard-earned dollars. And if they do so again for London, you can bet some new destination will be falling a few years from now, with Butler and Eckhart back on the run for some ripped-from-the-headlines enemies. I’d ask any potential sequel to try and do something (anything) with talented co-stars like Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo, Robert Forster, Jackie Earl Haley and Radha Mitchell. But they seem to have “voted” with their Has Fallen paychecks.