Continuing its predecessor’s attempts to bring back the ’90s, “London Has Fallen” is a slam-bang sequel that’s bigger, louder, and even more jingoistic and ultra-violent than its “Die Hard”-ish ancestor, 2013’s “Olympus Has Fallen.” Big-budget exploitation of the most headshot-happy order, it’s an action film drenched in clear-cut good-vs.-evil dynamics, profane post-kill one-liners, and rah-rah patriotic ass-kicking. Fantasies about Western democracies fighting back against their murderous Middle Eastern enemies don’t come much more blunt-force than this, with its eye-for-an-eye ethos summed up by its evil villain’s belief that “vengeance must always be profound and absolute.”
That baddie is Aamir Barkawi (Alon Moni Aboutboul), a notorious arms dealer of vague nationality who at film’s outset has sown geopolitical discord by providing weapons for a deadly Philippines massacre. No sooner has Barkawi celebrated this triumph, however, then he’s targeted by a drone strike that fails to kill him, but takes out most of the people attending his daughter’s wedding. “London Has Fallen” wastes no time debating the justness of such a collateral damage-inflicting remote attack — thereby delivering a definitive answer to the drone-centric ethical question at the heart of next week’s “Eye in the Sky” — because, like its ’90s forbears, it embraces the hardline notion that there’s a fundamental moral difference between the actions of America (and its allies) and its sadistic adversaries.
Of course, Barkawi seeks payback, and it comes two years later, when the British prime minister suddenly dies and the West’s leaders — including American president Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) — are summoned to London for his funeral. Tagging along with Asher is his trusty protector Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), a secret service superhero who’s presently deciding whether to retire so he can spend more time bullet-proofing his baby-to-be’s nursery. Loyal, caring, and funny, Banning is also a ruthless, take-no-prisoners agent in a distinct Schwarzenegger/Stallone mold. Thus, when Barkawi’s men orchestrate an astounding series of coordinated bombings that kill England, France, Italy, Germany and Japan’s heads of state, as well as put Asher in immediate peril, he shifts from being a jokey right-hand man to a righteous angel of death.
Taking over for ‘Olympus‘ helmer Antoine Fuqua, director Babak Najafi competently stages his shootouts and hand-to-hand combat, the former chockablock with instances of Banning putting bullets in his opponents’ foreheads, and the latter often concluding with Banning’s knife being repeatedly being plunged into nameless foes’ necks and torsos. There’s a visceral forcefulness to his staging that does much to enliven what are rather standard-issue conflicts, highlighted by a prolonged single-take (seemingly enhanced by CG trickery) down a city street in which his camera maneuvers in and out of gunfire, twirling around to provide 360-degree views of the carnage. Though sloppier and more monotonous, “London Has Fallen” ups its precursor’s ante in terms of gratuitous violence, not to mention foul-mouthed dialogue, such that Banning — after a particularly hectic skirmish — greets a glass of water with “I am thirsty as FUCK.”
As befitting a brazen ’90s throwback, America and its allies are presented as being on the side of undeniable right, while their terrorist opponents are slandered as savages hailing from “Fuckhead-istan” — circumstances that render any potential political commentary coarse and one-note. As with ‘Olympus,’ ‘London’ is akin to an indelicate, more vicious riff on “Air Force One,” with the Commander-in-Chief relegated to a damsel in distress — Eckhart’s Asher does more fighting this time around, but he’s still ultimately in need of rescuing — and America’s finest military man, Banning, envisioned as a noble macho deity.
Butler’s gruff manliness helps sell his character’s increasingly ludicrous feats of one-against-many homicidal heroism. And though the script (by Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt, Chad St. John and Christian Gudegast) fails to give him an unforgettably cheesy kiss-off line, his alternately brusque and sarcastic retorts continue to mark him as a serviceable descendant of John McClane. While Banning and Asher rampage through London’s streets in search of a safe haven, Morgan Freeman (as the Vice President) and a host of other notable faces (Melissa Leo, Robert Forster, Jackie Earl Haley) sit around a command center debating tactics — and talking to their English counterparts, located in some other room filled with computer monitors. Those scenes may function as narrative connective tissue, but they’re drearily irrelevant, given that Banning is an unstoppable force of counter-terrorism nature wholly capable of handling things on his own.
In an attempt to keep his story’s myriad players clear, Najafi provides a constant barrage of on-screen text denoting names, ranks, places and times — laughable gestures in light of the gleeful chaos indulged in by “London Has Fallen.” Brash, brutal, and simplistic in equal measure, it’s a retrograde work that, for better and worse, delivers its old-school mayhem with punishing precision and unrepentant glee. [B-]