Full disclosure, I was not a fan of OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN, the previous film exploring the victim/savior relationship between President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) and crack Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler). Thus, I was not hoping for much when I approached LONDON HAS FALLEN. The trick to staying sane in this business is knowing how to manage expectations, and I am pleased to report I have remained sane even as the film failed to clear even the low bar I had set for it.
As an action flick, LONDON HAS FALLEN is problematical. Conceived more as a video game than a coherent story, it displays lurches of logic that are disconcerting, and a mad rush of mayhem for its own sake that becomes tedious through repetition. As a political screed it is even more troubling, romanticizing violence into a necessary virtue to insure the safety of future generations. One is reminded of the old saw about an eye for an eye leading to a world full of blind people.
But I digress.
As we catch up with Mike and his President, they are out for their daily jog, and this is good because it will lend some verisimilitude to the non-stop chase that will shortly ensue through the streets of the eponymous city. In a film with so little effort to humor plausibility, any crumb thrown our way is to be treasured.
For Mike and his President, it’s just another morning in America, with Mike contemplating leaving the President’s details, his dutiful Mrs. Mike (Radha Mitchell) prepping for the imminent birth of their first child, and Mr. President taking video calls from First Son Conner (not seen in this film). But we’re not sitting in a darkened theater to watch these men enjoy the perks of power and privilege, No, we are there for mayhem, and it’s not long in coming, as the President is forced to make Connor wait in order to take a call about the sad and premature death of the British Prime Minister. With no time to do the sort of meticulous planning that would make her happy, the head of the Secret Service, Lynne Jacobs (Angela Bassett) frets about having 40 world leaders each with their own security infrastructure in one place for the funeral. Hence her accompanying Mike and his President to London, where they arrive just in time for the funeral, and for the all-out carnage that will put that ritual on hold.
Bombs explode, brains splatter in shades of vivid red, national monuments tumble into both the Thames and the streets, and it’s only through Mike’s determined efforts that his President becomes the only world leader not killed as London goes up in flames. At only about 15 minutes in, the flick becomes a long slog through those smoking streets with Mike doing things that defy physics, as well as that ci-mentioned logic, as he trades quips with his President.
Yes, it’s what Americans do when they bravely face danger with Yankee ingenuity and a devil-may-care sensibility. One ponders, though, if perhaps it would have been better to have Mike accompany his quips with some rudimentary precautions. Hence we are left to wonder why it is that Mike keeps leaving his President alone out in the open, or fails to make him put on a seat belt when their helicopter is being stalked by Stinger missiles. One is also left to ponder just how much Mike seems to enjoy plunging his knife into the bad guys. It’s not a repugnant necessity of his mission to keep his President alive, he is disturbingly into it. Even his President is taken aback watching one of Mike’s victims suffocate, despite said victim’s dastardly bona fides having been firmly established, but for Mike, it’s a little less involving than stomping a bug, which is preferable to the bug-eyed adrenaline rush he seems to be enjoying when slowly slipping his blade into someone neck, with the sound department adding appropriately squishy noises When he is fighting people for whom killing is not a moral issue when fighting a just war, how are we to distinguish Mike’s reactions from those of the people he is slaughtering right and left?
Such an ethical dilemma fail, alas, to distract us from plot holes such as a government safe house having a skylight that isn’t secure, or why it is that while an SUV’s windows may be impervious to bullets, but not to a projectile cyclist’s helmeted head.
LONDON HAS FALLEN sets up a perfect opportunity to spark a contemplation on the roots of terrorism and the complicity of both parties in escalating violence. Instead, it takes a cheap jingoistic approach to a moderately competent action film.