Big, dumb action movies are one of the greatest things ever to exist. It’s endlessly fun to see the hero kick the ever-loving crap out of these whomever it takes to save the day. It’s never about the destination with these movies, it’s about the bullet-riddled path to get there. That said, over the past few years, I’ve grown increasingly tired of the unapologetically jingoist action movies that seem to be a throwback to the ’80s in a bad way. I was constantly having this problem with London Has Fallen. Every time I’d start to enjoy the movie’s action, some line of dialogue would remind me — as if I’d forgotten — we were watching a movie about ‘Merica. But when the rest of the movie is so silly, does it even warrant getting annoyed?
I didn’t even realize the original film, 2013’s Olympus Has Fallen, was a big enough hit to warrant a sequel, but it apparently was and so now we have a part two. I will say, to this film’s benefit, it doesn’t waste too much time getting you to remember the returning characters; most of them just get a name and title on the screen. Also missing is the original’s director, Antoine Fuqua, now replaced by Iranian director Babak Najafi (Banshee), who gives us a few pretty cool, on-the-ground action sequences designed to make it look like one take, even though there are obviously hidden cuts everywhere. The action in the movie is pretty good, I must admit.
This film brings back Gerard Butler as Secret Serviceman Mike Banning who, after saving everything and everyone in the last movie, is now the head of President Asher’s (Aaron Eckhart) personal security detail. However, he is contemplating retiring because his wife (Radha Mitchell) is having a baby. But before he can do that, news reaches Washington that the British Prime Minister had died and the President, along with several other world leaders, will be headed to London for the funeral. Things do not go well from there, since the whole thing was a set-up by terrorists to assassinate all the world leaders in one fell swoop.
Because this is an action movie, the American and British leaders make it out okay — sorry, France, Japan, Italy, and Germany, but three of you were the enemy in WWII anyway. In order to get to safety, which means dealing with heavily armed terrorists impersonating first responders, Banning will have to lead the President through the deserted London streets before the terrorists can reach them, because they’re going to torture and execute him live on the internet for all to see. Good thing Banning has his certified action hero card, as well as a number of really big knives and guns, or else they’d be in some big trouble.
Since this movie has to be as much like the first one as possible, we also have Morgan Freeman‘s character, now the Vice President, in a room with the joint chiefs trying to help the British authorities. These scenes are beyond useless and only serve to shoehorn in Freeman, Melissa Leo, Robert Forster, and Jackie Earle Haley. Also hugely wasted is Charlotte Riley, who plays Banning’s MI-6 contact and ends up being the film’s lone female protagonist. She’s quite good but is given next to nothing to do.
So, if you just want a dumb shoot-em-up, foul-mouthed action movie, London Has Fallen is perfectly passable and only 100 minutes. But my problem with it comes from the tone-deaf screenplay that mixes in overused action cliches (they even made poor Aaron Eckhart say, “That is the sound of inevitability,” at one point), strange unneeded expletives (at one point, Butler gets a glass of water and says “I’m thirsty as f**k” before chugging it), and flag-waving “Make America Great Again” sentiments that seem in particularly poor taste given the current fear-mongering climate. The terrorists could have been from anywhere, but it was apparently important for them to be Middle-Eastern so that Banning could make mention of them being from “Wherever-istan.”
A lot of action movies are about Americans taking out some invading force or other, but there’s no need to hammer the point home with lame one-liners and “We’ll be here for another thousand years, pal!” exclamations. Not since something like Rambo III or any number of those Chuck Norris movies made by Cannon Films in their heyday has it been so blatant, which is a shame because London Has Fallen is very competently made and has some enjoyably brutal throwback action. I just can’t help thinking the makers of this movie didn’t realize Team America: World Police was a satire.
Image: Focus Features/Gramercy Pictures
Kyle Anderson is the Weekend Editor and a film and TV critic for Nerdist.com. Follow him on Twitter!