Film Reivew | London Has Fallen

Pandering to Islamophobia and crammed with action movie cliches, this latest entry in the 'make sure the American president doesn't get killed' revival is dead on arrival

Teodor Reljic
11 April 2016, 8:04am
Crash! It’s once again up to Gerard Butler (right) to save Aaron Eckhart’s President Asher from an imminent threat
Crash! It’s once again up to Gerard Butler (right) to save Aaron Eckhart’s President Asher from an imminent threat
Never mind the countless reboots and superhero adaptations, there’s a new Hollywood grind-machine in town. It looks as though that very-90s trend of Presidential kidnapping movies is rearing for a comeback.

You know the type: a Head of State – more often than not, of course, America’s own POTUS – is either kidnapped or seriously menaced by some high-powered and distinctly ‘foreign’ source of terror, and it all falls on a Strong Man bodyguard to fend off the funny-talking extremist assailants.

Seemingly arriving to the scene out of nowhere, it’s in 2013 that we got a double-whammy shock of the things: with both Jamie Foxx/Channing Tatum-starring White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen – where Gerard Butler defended Aaron Eckhart’s President Benjamin Asher from invaders as a concerned Vice President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) looked on – hitting the cinemas to more than decent box office.

Well, it looks like Mike Banning (Butler) isn’t going to catch a break – despite the fact that his wife, Leah (Radha Mitchell) is heavily pregnant, and that he’ll mulling over his resignation. Because the sudden passing of the British Prime Minister calls for a State funeral, which President Asher can’t miss, and “the most protected event on the planet” requires his most effective security detail to be on board.

But all hell breaks loose once they arrive, with the bulk of the Metropolitan Police revealed to be terrorists in disguise and “most of the known landmarks” in London ending up in flames. Certain that the culprit is an old American enemy – the arms dealer Aamir Barkawi (Alon Aboutboul) – Banning has to once again ensure Asher doesn’t end up caught in the crossfire.

Of course, it all plays out as a right-wing fantasy that just happens to snuggle up next to us to coo at our base chauvinistic impulses: terrorists should be wiped out without mercy at all costs, and if you can spare some time to gratuitously torture them with your always-at-hand Rambo knife, so much the better.

This is par for the course when it comes to the genre under consideration, and should surprise precisely no-one. What is surprising is just how monotone our action man of choice is. Butler plays Banning as an efficient killing machine with all other priorities otherwise in place: he’s a loving husband understandably anxious about the arrival of his first child – an anxiety that ‘adorably’ manifests itself in his insistence to practically bug the baby room with security cameras.

But although a tender interlude where the Eckhart’s president dishes out some parenting advice is wedged in the middle, nowhere else does Banning’s ‘human’ side manifest itself. He may as well be a cyborg, and this shouldn’t be excused or explained away by the exigencies of the genre.

Because its luminaries were great at blending the two, which is why we will never forget them. Think of Bruce Willis’s consistent streak of self-deprecating humour in the early installments of the Die Hard series, or Arnold Schwarzenegger’s human touch — Arnie’s not a great actor by any stretch, but his sense for comic timing and the earnest twinkle in his eye go a long way to lend something extra to his meathead roles.

And while Butler looks like a fun guy to share a few pints with — he is Scottish, after all — his Family Man persona, established early, never quite bleeds into the action so contributes nothing to the overall experience: it’s like a button that he switches on and off at will. Banning’s sadistic streak doesn’t help either: clearly meant to give us some gleeful satisfaction, it just comes across as unpleasant pandering to the Islamophobic crowd.

Uninspiringly directed by Babak Najafi, the film is further let down by astonishingly cheap special effects – not a negligible concern when you base the bulk of your dramatic heft on things blowing up, and the explosions end up looking like something you could copy/paste off the internet. The story, at least, moves to a steady clip, varying ground and air, outdoor and indoor attacks to ensure boredom is at the very least kept at bay.

But what takes away from a lot of the fun is that Banning is just too invincible. Again, someone like Die Hard’s John McClaine won over our hearts and minds because although strong and resourceful, he was also vulnerable. Banning is about as powerful as your average superhero, and about half as charismatic. A hero who’s a charmless lout is one thing, but a hero who can’t even take a hit? Boredom beckons.   

Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...