Friday, March 4, 2016

Movie Review: "London Has Fallen" (2016)

© Focus Features

Around this same time last year, I watched Olympus Has Fallen for my 365 Movies Project, and it shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone that Hollywood would find another way to put the President of the United States in unbelievable danger, this time across the pond in the suitably titled, London Has Fallen. Far less "pro-America" than its predecessor, it is instead significantly more "anti-everywhere else." Xenophobia and racial sensitivity run amuck, almost as aggressively as the nineties action-flick clichés that, after 100 long minutes, begin to feel inescapable. Director Babak Najafi's US film debut (having spent a career in his adopted home country of Sweden) regurgitates the same terrorist plot formula that has become all too familiar if you've watched a movie in the last 30 years, and while Najafi leans heavily on his over-qualified cast, they can't save the film from its humdrum dialogue and predictable plot twists.

Having returned to serve U.S. President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) for his second term, lead Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) awaits the birth of his first child, this time considering an official resignation on his own terms. But when the British Prime Minister unexpectedly passes away, Banning scrambles to oversee the safety of the President as they, along with all the leaders of the western world, travel to London for the funeral. Despite the heightened security and without warning, terrorists led by vengeful arms dealer, Aamir Barkawi (Alon Aboutboul), infiltrate the intelligence and police's ranks, bringing down a devastating attack on the city. Desperate to keep the President safe and not knowing who he can trust, Banning makes his way through the streets of London, fighting to ensure Barkawi's men never get their hand's on the leader of the free world.

Since this is essentially the same movie as its prequel, I'd say that neither is better than the other, but the fact that the original separated the two leads from interacting makes the buddy-adventure explored here completely override the intensity (and uncertainty) that was generated before. Butler and his accent are gruff and commanding, certainly more so than the dimple-chinned and charming Eckhart, who takes full advantage of the floundering battle-green persona he's given. Banning is so aggressively capable, you're left battled at how he can be so bad at his job.

The whole crux of the first film was: "Had Banning only been here, none of this would have happened," and that assessment is immediately cut down at the knees the moment hell fire rains down from Westminster Abbey and Banning stands in shock and dismay. As wonderful as it is watching Banning protect Asher against all means of chaos and terror, a good Secret Service head wouldn't have put him at risk in the first place. I don't think it's USSS protocol to "reluctantly" gamble with the President's life just because POTUS doesn't want to be rude.

Unfortunately, most of the other characters littered throughout the plot spend the length of the film in constant wide-eyed disbelief, if for no other reason than to contrast the inexplicably unflappable Banning. Locked in the Situation Room, they... watch screens and occasionally gasp and more often than not look concerned, and the talents of Oscar-celebrated stars, Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo, and Jackie Earle Haley go completely to waste. The only exception is the exceptional Angela Bassett as Secret Service Director, Lynne Jacobs. Displaying an emotional range none of the other actors can match, she's sadly relegated to being the character whose advice everyone ignores—with irreversible consequences.

Four credited writers attached to this excuse for a screenplay suggests there were a multitude of rewrites, likely stripping the film of any of its initial personality—that is to say, if it ever had any. Full of "took you long enough"s and "we will find you, and we will destroy you"s, it doesn't even try to say anything new or hide the obvious reveals to come. Close your eyes and you're listening to Michael Bay's greatest nineties hits. Open your eyes, and your witnessing the worst of his CGI effects reel. While the hand-to-hand combat scenes packed a damn impressive punch (hardy-har), try not to look too closely at the multitude of poorly designed computer-generated explosions. Calling the flat and terror-less flames "first-year VFX student quality" would be an insult to first year VFX students everywhere. Thankfully for the film's sake, director Najafi took as much time focusing in as tight on Butler as he could, managing to create a more than solid infiltration scene during the climax reminiscent of a first person shooter. But that impressive execution stands very much alone.

If it weren't for the fact that the blindly insensitive, one-dimensional, and petty portrayal of the villainous terrorists infused the film with such hostile, chauvinistic racism, this may have been an excusably good time. The leads do possess a friendship that isn't hard to believe in and root for, and frankly, that's more than most would expect in an action film this straight-forward. It's also not hard to argue that London Has Fallen is typical Hollywood March-release faire that, while wholly tone-deaf, shouldn't be taken seriously enough to offend anyone. There are certainly entertaining moments of shoot-em-up glee that would be enough to lift most viewers out of boredom and keep their attention until the obvious "We'll be back" close, but one can't help but wish Asher's term as President would come to a goddamn end already and save us from another sequel.

Rating: ★★ / 5 stars

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