In 2013, audiences were treated to two movies involving hostage situations in the White House: Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen and Roland Emmerich’s White House Down. The former performed well enough at the box office to merit a sequel, while the other languished in obscurity, likely due to its director’s notorious incompetence. And yet, much like its predecessor, London Has Fallen shows that in terms of quality, White House Down triumphed where Olympus had fallen.
London Has Fallen retains much of its original cast. Gerard Butler returns as Secret Service agent Mike Banning – John McClane without the charisma or appeal. Aaron Eckhart also returns as the hapless U.S. President Benjamin Asher, who was held hostage by North Korean terrorists in the first film and is now at the mercy of Middle Eastern terrorists (how topical). The rest of the cast is rounded out again by Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Melissa Leo, and Radha Mitchell, while adding Charlotte Riley and the grossly underused Jackie Earle Haley. Most of the supporting cast simply act as onlookers without much agency while Butler and Eckhart must contend with a large scale terrorist attack that has crippled London and robbed many countries of their political leaders.
Like Olympus, London takes itself way too seriously: a concomitant of post-9/11 influences on popular cinema. White House Down had more in common with pre-9/11 action cinema: the villains were domestic right-wing terrorists, and the film was gleefully stupid in its execution. Olympus and London are downright propagandist in comparison. Both signal a neoconservative, interventionist ideology.
Antoine Fuqua, whose notorious poorly-lit scenes made Olympus difficult to sit through, is replaced here by Iranian-Swedish filmmaker Babak Najafi. In his first English language feature, Najafi lacks command of the formal attributes of the action film. One noteworthy long-take action sequence, which seems to take some inspiration from many such scenes in Alfonso Cuarón’s superior Children of Men, is poorly executed.
Perhaps the worst thing about London is its unrepentant ugliness. Najafi takes no emotional stakes in the death of bystanders (though some of terrorists are treated empathically, demonstrating their injuries from a botched drone strike). The screenplay also takes pleasure in having Banning slowly execute terrorists, something that President Asher seems opposed to; this leads later to a bizarre homophobic joke that questions Asher’s masculinity.
Like its predecessor, London Has Fallen is culturally insensitive. Given the rise of Donald Trump, it’s easy to locate symmetries between London Has Fallen’s ideological stances and some of Trump’s paradoxical (and downright illegal) policies. Even if that’s not enough, the bland and mean-spirited action sequences should deter you from wasting time on this hateful film.
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Mark Barber: @WorstCinephile