“London Has Fallen” Movie Review


     Last week, I had the always enjoyable experience of showing my 19 year old son another classic film that came out around the time I was his age.  This time, it was director John McTiernan’s 1988 action extravaganza “Die Hard”, a film of which I explained, created it’s own sub genre that has been continually copied ever since.  That sub genre, known as the “Die Hard on a or in a ________” formula has not only spawned an additional four “Die Hard” sequels, furthering the death defying exploits of NYPD Officer John McClane (Bruce Willis), but also a series of often successful knockoffs where the simple plot of a man or woman being trapped in a closed and confined space unbeknownst to the terrorists who have for one reason or another taken over that location for nefarious purposes.  Steven Seagal used the blueprint twice with his “Die Hard on a Boat” thriller “Under Siege” (1992), and again with the sequel a “Die Hard on a Train” variation called “Under Siege 2: Dark Territory” (1995).  Other common examples include director Jan de Bont’s “Speed” (1994), essentially “Die Hard on a Bus”, and that film’s sequel “Speed 2: Cruise Control” (1997), which shifts the location to allow for a “Die Hard on a Cruise Ship” setting.  To say the story line has been over used would be an understatement.

     Studios continue to use the “Die Hard” formula to fuel many of their event films today, now some 28 years later.  Audiences always love an underdog story, and especially today, there is nothing better than a good old American hero fighting against nearly insurmountable odds to gun down terrorists who aim to topple the Western values they so adamantly despise.  And what better location to apply this time tested formula than the White House?  In the Spring and Summer of 2013, rival studios took turns releasing their respective takes on the genre, first with Antoine Fuqua’s “Olympus Has Fallen”, and later that year with Roland Emmerich’s “White House Down”.  Neither film was a hit, and both found themselves panned by critics.  Yet the producers behind “Olympus Has Fallen” have decided Gerard Butler’s rugged Secret Service Agent Mike Banning deserved another go at killing more terrorists and thus the vile and overblown mess that is “London Has Fallen” was born.  The result is so utterly predictable and silly that you have to wonder if the filmmakers were actually more inspired by Schwarzenegger’s  “Commando” since the body count combined with Butler’s comical one liners disallow any chance of this lame sequel being taken seriously.

     Considering the events which occurred in “Olympus Has Fallen”, you would think just three years later the last thing President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) would be allowed to do is attend a funeral in London where security risks seem to be endless.  He’s even told this directly by his lead Agent, Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), and the Director of the Secret Service, Lynne Jacobs (Angela Bassett), who implore their boss to reconsider.  With the Prime Minister of one of America’s closest allies having unexpectedly passed away, Asher sees no choice but to join several other notable world leaders in London to attend the services.  While the first film utilized North Korean terrorists to serve as the villains, “London Has Fallen” goes with a Middle Eastern terrorist plot taken not only from the headlines on 24/7 news networks, but also from television shows like “Homeland” and “24”, in which the motivation for the attack comes as a result of the lead terrorists’ daughter being killed during her wedding by way of a drone attack gone wrong.  Director Babak Najafi works his way through a number of action set pieces armed only with a cliche filled thinly plotted script by “Olympus Has Fallen” scribes Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt, with two additional writers, Christian Gudegast and Chad St. John, contributing as well, and comes away with a final product eerily similar in quality to the aforementioned “Speed: Cruise Control” which may have been the worst film ever made using this formula.

     Of course upon arrival to London, Asher and his party are ambushed just as they arrive at the funeral.  A series of coordinated attacks begin to materialize as the terrorists systematically take out each of the world’s leaders as they are making their way to the funeral by various modes of transportation.  This is just the beginning of the film’s gross implausibility.  In order to successfully sell the formula in play here, the filmmakers have to ensure the initial moments of the takeover are at least believable.  Here we are expected to accept that the entire uniformed police force at the scene of the funeral has been compromised by Middle Eastern terrorists.  

     Now imagine the logistics that would go into the on site security of an arriving President at the level of the police department.  It would be likely some of the highest ranking Officers would be present or nearby monitoring the situation and numerous middle managers and first line supervisors would be directly involved and would know exactly who each Officer is and what post they are assigned to.  In the first moments of the attack, the very Officers at the most crucial posts are terrorists in uniform, which in real life would be literally impossible.  And since we are told Asher’s convoy is actually arriving earlier than anticipated, which aids Banning in helping Asher survive the first wave of the attack, this means the terrorists, posing as police officers, were able to change their plans on the fly without the apparent knowledge of anyone in the police chain of command.  None of it makes any sense, and that’s where the filmmakers slowly allow the rest of the film to crumble.  The fact the terrorists actually have an elaborate plan B in place, just in case they didn’t succeed in killing Asher the first time, also breaks the unwritten laws of convenience in a film’s story.

     One of the integral aspects of any good “Die Hard” plot is the need for there to be a war room full of police, military, politicians, or a combination of all three sitting helplessly as they watch live video feeds of the impending destruction and sometimes talk directly to the terrorists themselves.  Most of the time, these characters are portrayed as buffoons who typically look to ensure they rid themselves of as much liability as possible while preaching they are attempting to save lives.  The problem with the war room scenes in “London Has Fallen” is the lack of the script giving such fine actors as Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo (whose character, Secretary of Defense Ruth McMillan, had to be thinking how glad she was she didn’t make this trip), and Robert Forster anything remotely interesting to say or do.  Everything is all by the numbers as these actors were likely told to simply react in horror to the possibility of the President’s demise, but they offer nothing important otherwise.  That’s because Banning is busy moving through several “Call of Duty” like scenarios in which he has endless ammo and drops literally hundreds of faceless Middle Eastern terrorists who seem to have the aim of your typical First Order Stormtrooper.  And the filmmakers ensure they reserve plenty of moments for their hero to continually zing one liners at his prey as he surgically drives his “Rambo” knife into another bad guy’s skull.  

     For most of “London Has Fallen”, I sat there wondering if perhaps Trey Parker and Matt Stone were somehow involved with a vision to make a live action version of their “Team America: World Police” as that film’s trademark tune, “America: F**k Yeah!”, played in the back of my mind while Banning mercilessly lectured another terrorist on what happens when you mess with us.  In truth, there’s nothing here to be taken seriously.  The film is devoid of anything remotely impressive and even the destruction of several British landmarks are examples of CGI conceived on an obviously tight budget.  Even the British people in the film are portrayed as mostly clueless and are unable to come up with logical explanations as to how their systems and police force were compromised.  To be fair, they should be stumped since what occurs on screen would be absolutely impossible.  The only good that comes from “London Has Fallen” is the likely fact a sequel to “White House Down” will never happen.  GRADE: F