I did not honestly believe it was possible to make a more mutton-headed piece of xenophobic, racist propagada than Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen (2013). Well, it is — as Babak Najafi’s London Has Fallen proves. And then some. I said of the first movie, “Red meat for the red-state minded — and something of an embarrassment for the rest of us.” That more or less applies here, but now we get a movie that feels like the action version of a Donald Trump stump speech — only less nuanced. That it’s kind of dull and very cheesy doesn’t help, but it does make a compelling case for Gerard Butler as our generation’s Charles Bronson or, worse yet, Chuck Norris. Yes, that is terrifying to contemplate. I used to think Butler was an actor I liked but who made some bad career decisions. I now realize that the times I’ve actually liked him are few and far between (I think it works out to five movies) and have concluded that his career mostly consists of bellowing and mumbling bad lines in worse movies. London Has Fallen is either the pinnacle or the nadir of his cinematic trajectory to date. This is especially noticeable coming hot on the sandal heels of Gods of Egypt.
Much like its odious predecessor, London Has Fallen neatly sidesteps identifying the bad guys as representative of a clearly identified foreign power. Last time, it was renegade North Koreans. This time, it is some kind of Middle East faction never directly connected to any country. At one point, tougher-than-a-roomful-of-wildcats Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Butler) does tell one of the endless parade of miscreants to “go back to Fuckheadistan,” but I doubt you’ll find that country on any map. It hardly lightens the Islamaphobic tone of the movie not to name the country but instead to pin all this on arms dealer Aamir Barkawi (Alon Aboutboul), who isn’t doing this in a fit of anti-infidel ideology, but as a simple (albeit ridiculously elaborate) revenge scheme.
It seems the U.S. took out his daughter — along with an entire, presumably innocent, wedding party — with a drone strike meant for Barkawi himself. None too surprisingly, Barkawi is displeased by this rash, inhospitable action. That the most reasonable way to go about this is to arrange for the death of the British prime minister, infiltrate the London police force and the Royal Guard with trigger-happy bad guys, and gather all the big names in world government in one place to get at U.S. President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) … well, that’s another matter. This, of course, is not a film that asks for deep thought — or any thought at all. The bad guys destroy more famous landmarks than an alien invasion in a 1950s sci-fi movie and kill off any number of heads of state. Ah, but they have not reckoned with the presence of Mike Banning, nor the grit of President Asher. You can probably take it from here, although how utterly cheesy the production values are (and how much stock footage has been used) may surprise and appall anyone not pining for the days of Delta Force movies.
If the production values don’t do it in, the fact that director Najafi is unable to shoot coherent action sequences — even without resorting to shaky-cam and fast-cutting — ought to. But we should also credit the lackluster performances and the terrible writing. Since the script can’t figure out how to tell the story, it’s spelled out for us in the unspectacular war room where most of the name cast — Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo, Jackie Earle Haley — spends the film. The things that Freeman-as-vice-president doesn’t tell us are delivered by Barkawi himself. How? Well, you see, he has somehow taken over the TV signal — you know, like in a comic book movie — and tells us what’s happening and why. Yes, the lunkheaded mess really is as dumb as that sounds. And, while we don’t get anything to quite equal Melissa Leo screaming the Pledge of Allegiance while being dragged around in her underwear in the first film, we do get Eckhart reciting his oath of office while having the crap beaten out of him by evil foreigners. So there. Rated R for strong violence and language throughout.