LONDON HAS FALLEN (Lionsgate)
Dir. Babak Najafi, Script. Creighton Rothenburger, Katrin Benedikt, Chad St. John, Christian Gudegast
Cast: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman
Plot: After a surprisingly smooth terrorist attack on London, agent Mike Banning (Butler) must protect the President (Eckhart) once again.
When reviewing an unconventionally forgettable film, I feel like you should start unconventionally – so I’m going to rate London Has Fallen now. It’s running at a 4/10 in every department, as if the cast and crew knew that was the best they could have hoped for. The necessary illusions of quality are there; there’s a ‘one-take sequence’ that is presented like one take but, unlike with Birdman, Kingsman and many others before it, the edits are just as obvious as any typical jump cut. The destruction of many London landmarks occurs, with many awe-inducing wide takes – or at least, that’s how they should have done it, rather than put it on film as if it was a computer reconstruction made for National Geographic spliced in with stock footage from Sky News.
The direction overall is just about competent, but I feel that Babak Najafi, making his Hollywood debut with London Has Fallen, was really only hired because he was prepared to work inside of the film’s budgetary restrains. Despite a $60m budget, which is plenty to play with, the producers of this action sequel, as well as struggling Lionsgate who need a new hit franchise post-Hunger Games, wanted a massive action extravaganza that needed $120m to be done well. However, this has hilariously led to London Has Fallen feeling like it was made for $30m. While I praise Najafi for utilising blood squibs (which are, and always will be, brilliantly old-school), it doesn’t distract from poorly edited, constructed and conceived sequences.
The entire production design just seems a bit out – London Has Fallen works as an action movie from the mid-1990s, but instead of being a pleasant reminder of how good Die Hard With A Vengeance was at that time, it simply feels 20 years out of date. The tone has the same problem. Instead of the four-strong team of screenwriters taking the time out to come up with a compelling villain with understandable motives, they’ve decided to take the ‘get a bunch of Middle-Eastern looking people’ approach (their figurehead is a cardboard cut-out of a cardboard box in a store that sells cardboard). And, in a hilariously unnecessary montage of foreign heads of state first catering to their national stereotypes and then dying, the writers have also decided this approach should also apply to all those not in ‘Murica’.
It’s eagle-riding, constitution defending protagonists don’t really have much more depth. It’s three leads return from Antoine Fuqua’s far superior Olympus Has Fallen, which seems like an action classic in comparison. Gerard Butler is likeable and fits the role of Mike Banning well, but in the action sequences Najafi portrays Butler as totally invulnerable, and that is to my mind the biggest sin an action director can make. Aaron Eckhart isn’t too bad either as the U.S. President, and Morgan Freeman, who (let’s face it) long ago decided he would only play himself in movies, reliably brings some Morgan Freeman into the party – its a shame he’s utilised so little, although I have a feeling Freeman’s contract may have prevented him staying on the set for more than a week. Again, they’re all performing at around a 4/10. Everything’s just boringly mediocre and formulaic – there’s nothing London Has Fallen really offers.
The mediocrity and formula originates from a screenplay so forgettable its difficult to say too much, although its plot holes are as large as those created into London by our unknown terrorist hordes (who somehow break securities frequently remarked as the best in the world without a hitch, and who can seemingly recruit hundreds of people for some unmentioned reason). There’s an attempt at giving Butler and Eckhart a buddy-cop style relationship at times, and between action beats they attempt to have some banter. It doesn’t work. London Has Fallen‘s stab-a-minute, killing cornucopia for which that ‘let the bodies hit the floor’ song was never more appropriate, is an action movie that offers no memorable action, a thriller with no memorable thrills, and an adventure which will only amnesia will arise in its apathetic audience.