There is only one good headstab in London Has Fallen. Instead of rubbing our face in psychotic hero Mike Manning’s previous calling card of death, London Has Fallen is just smart enough to invent a new one - the slow stab. Imagine Adam Goldberg’s death in Saving Private Ryan but fun instead of harrowing. That basically summarizes this sequel. It has the same rotten soul as the original, but chooses to expand rather than retread. This is a worthy next entry into the Mike Banning saga.
That doesn’t mean London Has Fallen is as good as Olympus. It’s not. It lacks the benefits offered by Olympus’ constricted setting, but it also can’t recreate the surprising brutality and lack of respect for human life Olympus featured, though it certainly tries. Which is why escalation is the only way to go. If Olympus was Rocky, London Has Fallen is Rocky III. This is a dumb analogy since both movies are Rocky IV, but you get the point.
Instead of turning the White House into a playground of crazy death, this movie chooses to shut down the entire city of London. Once shit goes fully south, city streets remain empty of civilians for the rest of the film. The President and terrorists alike can essentially run around as they please. Olympus’ opening assault was furious and brutal enough to make a ludicrous idea believable, at least in movie terms. London’s assault never comes close. The series of bombs that take out every world leader but ours is too convenient, too outrageous to achieve that level of tension. We realize immediately that we’re in a cartoon where a superhuman American kills the shit out of everyone. It’s not about tension this time, just Banning’s murder spree.
Well that and jingoistic hatred. There was a dumb purity to Olympus’ North Korean villains, who functioned like Nazis and Russians have in the past. London’s villain is a Middle Eastern arms dealer. His family was killed by America during a drone strike, and he wants revenge. To achieve that goal, he has assembled a small army of like-minded folks, other Middle Eastern men who have beef with America. Which means the villains aren’t from any single political entity but instead casually represent a whole swath of countries and cultures normal Americans can’t tell apart. Essentially, the movie lumps the entire Middle East together and says kill ‘em all. This is in the text, too. Banning tells one guy to (and I’m paraphrasing here) “go back to Fuckheadistan or wherever you people come from”. In another scene he stridently declares “you people want to kill us so bad, but you know what? In a thousand years, we’ll still be here”. Then he throws him into something. It’s absolutely odious. The film’s last big act of violence would be condemnable in any other movie. Here it’s a triumphant scream.
These movies want to emulate an ‘80s action film climate that never quite existed with such explicitness. Even if it did, seeing it in 2016 is a bit hard to believe. Banning shoots gay jokes at the President and insinuates that he runs like a girl. It’s amazing.
Speaking of the President, he’s still a fucking idiot. He doesn’t give away Cerberus codes willy-nilly like before, but he’s still just around to get tied up and look pissed without having much to add. He makes Banning promise to kill him if he’s about to get captured. Of course, that cool twist never gets tested. I have to wonder how embarrassed Aaron Eckhart was saying some of these lines.
One of the funniest things about London Has Fallen is how it brings back virtually every actor from Olympus Has Fallen only to deny many of them any actions or lines of note, excluding Morgan Freeman and Angela Bassett. Perhaps the film’s biggest disappointment is its lack of a big Melissa Leo scene, though in her defense, she manages to over-act even when it comes to silently looking shocked. In a perplexing move, they added Jackie Earle Haley to the family for absolutely no reason at all.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one particular sequence in the film. Director Babak Najafi is no Antione Fuqua, but he’s no slouch either. You always know what you’re looking at in London Has Fallen. And while Olympus’ bravado action scene comes early, London’s arrives quite late and is far more amazing than the film leading up to it would indicate. It probably won’t go down in any cinematic history books, but there’s an assault on a villainous location in which Banning and a team of badasses have to fight for every inch of gained ground in a very narrow alley that’s done in one shot with a camera roaming all around while so many amazing explosions and point blank headshots go down. It’s absolutely exemplary and makes me very excited for whatever Najafi does next. This is a dumb movie, but there is occasionally some great filmmaking at hand.
But keep that dumbness in mind. You won’t believe a single line reading in London Has Fallen. It’s all stupid, even more so than in the original. I just didn’t care. Once the opening half hour sets everything up, this is a non-stop buffet of violence filled with gross politics and the kind of mindset that leads men to attach metal nutsacks to the back of their trucks. Mike Banning is not a hero; he’s a monster. But I love him the same way people love Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees. I’ve always said the best action films are horror action films. This comes pretty close to that, and I love it.