Thursday, August 22, 2019

Summer School: 'London Has Fallen' (2016)

Once again, I'm looking back at previous installments of some of this summer's big returning franchises.

Nothing about Olympus Has Fallen called out for a sequel, and I'd be surprised if anyone involved in its production expected there to be a follow-up. But the movie was successful enough that three years later Gerard Butler returned as Secret Service superhero Mike Banning, once again forced to protect U.S. President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) by murdering as many terrorists as possible. London Has Fallen is even more hyper-violent than its predecessor, with more grossly xenophobic pandering, and Mike comes across less as a freakishly competent agent than as a psychopath who gets off on killing.

While the action in Olympus was pretty much confined the under-siege White House, London takes place across the city of London, as well as above it, allowing director Babak Najafi to stage more elaborate action sequences, although the shoddy effects (even shakier than in the last movie) hold him back from doing anything particularly impressive. There are car chases and helicopter crashes and lots of explosions, but none of it carries any weight. Late in the movie, there's a stitched-together single-take shot of Mike infiltrating a terrorist stronghold, and it looks just like gameplay footage from a video game, with Mike as the deliberately blank protagonist. That's representative of the movie as a whole, which has a sort of plug-and-play feel with characters thrown into a generic action-movie template.

That template involves some anonymous Middle Eastern terrorists staging an attack on world leaders who are in London for the funeral of the British Prime Minister. Olympus sacrificed the leader of South Korea as a plot catalyst; here the filmmakers raise the stakes by killing at least five heads of state within a few minutes. Of course Asher manages to escape thanks to Mike's projected invulnerability and unerring aim (he shoots multiple bad guys in the head before even getting Asher into their getaway car), and then the terrorists are focused solely on tracking him down so they can complete their revenge for an American drone strike on the head terrorist's family.

Although Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt return as the screenwriters (with additional writing from several others), London is more focused on snarky dialogue and mean-spirited jabs than Olympus was. People most remember the infamous "Go back to Fuckheadistan" line, but Mike spends the whole movie throwing out racist and dehumanizing insults that make him sound like he places no value on human life. It's a strange approach to a character who's meant to be a hero, someone with a stronger moral code than the bad guys. But Mike's really just the American flip side of the equally vengeance-driven Middle Eastern terrorists. It turns what should be a fun action movie into an angry rant about foreign policy, making it hard to enjoy even on the level of mindless trash.

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