Movie Review: “London Has Fallen”

Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Charlotte Riley, Colin Salmon, Robert Forster
Babak Najafi

“Olympus Has Fallen” was a pretty blatant rip-off of John McTiernan’s “Die Hard,” so it should come as no surprise that “London Has Fallen” – which is more of a spiritual successor than a literal sequel to the 2013 film – takes a page from another installment in the John McClane series, “Die Hard with a Vengeance,” by staging it as a buddy movie between Gerard Butler‘s gruff, no-nonsense Secret Service agent and Aaron Eckhart‘s hostage-prone president. The premise itself isn’t all that different from its somewhat enjoyable predecessor, but while “London Has Fallen” has its charms, this lean, mean POTUS-in-peril action thriller is ultimately hindered by its reluctance to fully embrace its own stupidity.

When the British Prime Minister unexpectedly dies after a routine surgery, U.S. President Benjamin Asher (Eckhart) insists on traveling to London for the funeral to pay his respects, despite the logistical nightmare that it creates for Secret Service director Lynne Jacobs (Angela Bassett) and head of security Mike Banning (Butler). Many of the world’s most powerful leaders are scheduled to attend, which provides the perfect opportunity for Yemenian arms dealer Aamir Barkawi (Alon Aboutboul) to launch a synchronized terrorist attack that kills several heads of state and reduces London’s most famous landmarks to rubble. President Asher manages to survive the initial attack, but when his rescue chopper is shot down, he’s forced to go on the run from his pursuers, relying once again on the highly skilled Banning to keep him safe and neutralize the threat.

Curiously, there’s not a single mention of the events from the first film, so either the characters are too embarrassed that this could happen again to even bring it up, or the movie takes place in an alternate universe – one in which all of the characters are played by the exact same actors. That may seem completely absurd, but it wouldn’t be the most ridiculous thing about “London Has Fallen”; that honor goes to the opening attack, which is so perfectly planned that it could only be dreamed up in a movie. Granted, nothing in the film is as idiotic as the military aircraft that bombards the White House in “Olympus Has Fallen,” but it definitely has its share of silly moments. The action that is grounded more in reality works better, including an awesome single-take sequence that follows Banning through an intense firefight down a darkened city street.

Though “London Has Fallen” does a good job of retaining the elements that made the first movie enjoyable – from the brutal, close-quarters combat, to the playful banter between Banning and the bad guys (including a comically liberal use of the F-word) – director Babak Najafi can’t quite decide if he wants to make an over-the-top action film or a grim, straight-faced thriller. In a movie plagued by xenophobia, shoot-first-think-later plotting and further offenses, that’s arguably it’s biggest problem, because if “London Has Fallen” had just committed one way or the other, it might have been a really entertaining B-movie. As it stands, its greatest achievement is turning Butler into the old-school action hero that Hollywood has been sorely missing.