If you can picture some easy-to-please action buff wandering the aisles of a dusty old video store looking for that one generic VHS tape they haven’t yet seen, then you might be able to grasp what the makers of London Has Fallen appear to be going for. This is a junky throwback to a junky era when the likes of Chuck Norris and Dolph Lundgren satisfied a certain escapist hunger for wanton violence and bad one-liners. London Has Fallen has no aspirations to be a good throwback or even a bad throwback to good action movies of the tough guy genre’s 80s heyday, but rather just a bad this to a bad that.
Surely this must all be true, because there’s no other way to explain the sheer craptitude of this sequel to an umpteenth Die Hard ripoff. Thinking of it in the throwback context at least justifies the use of so many lazily recycled parts to construct a plot about world leaders assembling in the U.K. capital for the British Prime Minister’s funeral and all getting blown to bits as the result of a two-year-old revenge plan organized by Muslim terrorists.
Of course, American President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) is lucky to have secret service superhero Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) by his side, meaning he manages to survive the attack, something that eludes literally every other head of state. To make this clear, director Babak Najafi takes his sweet time aligning each and every piece on his flimsy chess board and introduces every single person of even a modicum of significance with a name and title text label.
It's as clumsy and clunky a way to approach this story as anyone could muster, establishing what feels like fifty characters just so we can understand that their deaths a few minutes later are of paramount importance. We also get to meet or be reacquainted with various officials inside the White House war room, including Morgan Freeman’s Vice President and some military General played by Robert Forster, who literally has two lines in the whole movie, one of which is “Son of a bitch!”
Melissa Leo got dragged by her hair while screaming the Pledge of Allegiance in this pic’s predecessor Olympus Has Fallen, but now she gets to take it easy watching the movie’s events unfold on a large monitor within the safety of the White House. To be honest, I couldn’t even remember if her character survived the first movie or not, so it was nice of Najafi to clear that up.
Normally, forgetting the events of one movie while settling in to watch its sequel could leave you in the dark, but it seems Najafi prefers it that way, so lamely rehashed is the plot from the first pic. And don’t look for any of the self-referential wit found in Die Hard 2, which comically fessed up to the plot recycling. London Has Fallen is unapologetic about its retread status and it can’t be bothered to wink about it, either.
This is just the movie’s way of embracing its nostalgic VHS-era heritage. The pic is unapologetic about everything, from being idiotic to being patriotic. When things are looking particularly bad for the President, he decides the best way to spend what may be his last minutes (except come on...) is to recite the Presidential Oath for the world to hear. It’s almost surprising that he doesn’t tear open his shirt and have a Bald Eagle fly out.
Aiming for more ridiculousness would seem the only way to make this drivel work, but Najafi is determined to keep the proceedings locked into relatively generic territory. Oh well. No Bald Eagles bursting forth from Aaron Eckhart’s chest. Opportunity lost. But you do get a bunch of nasty stabbings courtesy of Butler’s grizzled Mike, who now has a subplot about becoming a father to balance out the rough-and-tumble violence.
If you ever wondered what it would be like to see Radha Mitchell pretend to be pregnant and have her acting talents be completely wasted by a script that views her as nothing more than a prop, then, well, this movie probably isn’t for you, but it will provide some answers. It’s pretty baffling that Najafi and screenwriters Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt, Christian Gudegast, and Chad St. John (yup, four of ‘em) think that what the movie needs and what the audience wants is a couple jokes about Butler being an overprotective dad-to-be and a shot of him holding a tiny baby, but perhaps such sentimentality fits the nostalgic vibe and that time of yesteryear when action heroes had gooily cheesy motivation. Consider it fromage as homage.
That kind of sums it up. London Has Fallen resides solely in the shadow of better action cinema. At one point, Mike leaps down into a building from some higher-up scaffolding and the camera follows him in what appears to be an unbroken take. It'd be an impressive shot if it wasn't such a shameless ripoff of the same move done nearly ten years ago in The Bourne Ultimatum. B for effort, though! B's all around, really, as that truly is the most appropriate letter. This is a brawny, blubbery, bone-headed bargain bin B-movie about how the President is the only world leader with a remotely competent security staff.
Upon watching this, Butler and Eckhart's self-respect may have fallen as epically as the U.K. capital, but their paycheques probably helped restore some balance. Surely no one is walking away from this mess feeling proud of the accomplishment, though I guess blowing up much of London, even if with the aid of much awful CGI, must require some planning and ambition. An action pic like this, aspiring to nothing more than rubbing shoulders with worn VHS jackets of forgotten 80s trash, is pretty much pointless to criticize.
That doesn't mean it isn't fun to chuckle at how hopelessly Najafi scrapes the bottom of the barrel and marvel at how many decent actors have absolutely nothing to do here. This is the Butler show, after all, complete with barely concealed accent and the occasional one-word one-liner. Some may be tempted to change the channel, but the makers of London Has Fallen are simply hoping you’re to unmotivated to find the remote.