Just to get it out of the way early, I wasn't a big fan of Olympus Has Fallen when it hit theaters in spring of 2013. As it happens, that year saw two "White House under siege" thrillers debut within months of each other, and while Olympus was first out the chute, I enjoyed the second, Roland Emmerich's action-comedy White House Down, just a little bit more. Don't get me wrong, both are exceedingly dumb, but the latter was fun-dumb, while the former was dumb-dumb.
But in the almighty battle for box office glory, Olympus took the franchise-making crown. Thus, here we are a scant three years later, and Gerard Butler's indomitable Secret Service agent Mike Banning has taken his act across the pond for London Has Fallen. While North Koreans were the baddies last time, for this go-round it's hordes of Muslim terrorists that are after Aaron Eckhardt's President Benjamin Asher, who has to be wondering how the same stuff can happen to the same president twice.
The storyline for the sequel involves a failed drone strike that takes out the family of a wanted arms dealer in Pakistan. To exact vengeance, said arms dealer orchestrates a plot that sees one world leader covertly assassinated, and several more wiped out as London does what the title promises in an orgiastic display of disaster porn that's both preposterous and discomfiting. It's a good thing Mike Banning waited to hit "send" on that resignation letter he's working on (what with his being an expectant father and all).
And so, with terrorists hoping to capture President Asher and execute him live on the Internet, it's up to Our Man Banning to even the score as he leaves a trail of spent shell casings and mumbled one-liners in his wake. Meanwhile, Vice President Morgan Freeman and Secretary of Defense Melissa Leo stare grimly at the giant TV screens in the Situation Room, feeling for all the world like they just wandered in from the set of another film altogether as they ominously intone stuff like, "Oh. My. God."
I may not have liked Olympus Has Fallen very much, but it felt like All The President's Men compared to this sequel. Really, there's something downright toxic about this thing. Maybe it's because one week ago I watched the political thriller Eye in the Sky, directed by Gavin Hood*, which ably attempts to illustrate the agonizing, many-textured gray areas involved in drone warfare. That stark contrast surely didn't help London Has Fallen's dunderheaded approach to the same conceit feel any less like a mallet to the melon.
While director Babak Najafi (stepping in for the original's Antoine Fuqua, who was busy making the Denzel Washington starrer The Equalizer) does what's asked of him, that's about it. But for as much of a noisy, ugly mess this all is, I also doubt anyone could have rescued the clunker of a script by Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benedikt, Christian Gudegast and Chad St. John. (It's kind of amazing to me that it took this many credited writers to come up with a hundred-minute film that's 60% explosions and 40% Gerard Butler quips.)
This is a movie that asks us to believe terrorists are so entrenched in our midst that they're capable of shutting down entire power grids at random and somehow infiltrating every facet of London's first-responders. This has the dual effect of making the baddies nigh-omniscient while at the same making the gathered might of the western hemisphere appear entirely feckless in comparison. It's an inversion of modern geopolitics that utterly belies common sense, but one realizes that it's a necessary reordering for the fantasy world of this film to work.
London Has Fallen so luxuriates in its paranoid, nativist worldview that it zooms straight past escapism and just becomes insufferable in its blood-soaked, bullet-riddled smugness. Unlike the aforementioned Eye in the Sky, this project is is most assuredly not about nuance and complexity. This is a world where all it takes is one heavily-armed good guy to send 'em all "back to F**kheadistan," as Banning says to one of the countless generic, bearded baddies. I have no doubt that line will become a rallying cry for a portion of the audience that will love this movie. D