Wednesday, September 7, 2016

London Has Fallen (Millennium Films, Gerard Butler-Alan Siegel Entertainment, LHF Film, Universal, 2016)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2016 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The film was London Has Fallen, a sequel to the 2013 thriller Olympus Has Fallen — a bit of a surprise because I hadn’t realized the original film had done well enough to merit a sequel (though the major studio sponsoring the myriad of “independent” production companies changed from Sony to Universal) — with at least four of the first film’s actors repeating their roles: Gerard Butler as Secret Service super-agent Mike Banning; Aaron Eckhardt as U.S. President Benjamin Asher (Eckhardt was born March 12, 1968, which would make him 48, but he’s still quite vigorous and handsome, a refreshing change from the two old bags — Hillary Clinton is 69 and Donald Trump is 70 — who are the major-party nominees in this year’s election!), Morgan Freeman as Allan Trumbull (in this film promoted from Speaker of the House to Vice-President — that bothered Charles but I guess we were meant to assume President Asher appointed him to fill a vice-presidential vacancy left over from the events of the earlier film), and Angela Bassett as Secret Service director Lynne Jacobs. (There’s actually a fifth “repeater” from the earlier film: Radha Mitchell in the thankless role of Banning’s wife Leah, who in this story is expecting their first child — though when he found enough time off from saving the world in general and the President in particular to have sex with her remains a mystery.) When I saw a DVD with the title London Has Fallen in the racks at Costco and Vons my first thought was, “Ah! Someone did an instant documentary on the Brexit!” No such luck; instead the plot, by returning screenwriters Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt (though two other writers, Christian Gudegast and Chad St. John, platooned in consecutively to revise the script enough to get credit), centered around a terror plot hatched over years by Yemeni national Aamir Barkawi (Alon Aboutboul).

The film opens with the Prime Minister of Britain having just died — at first everybody thinks he just had a heart attack but later it turns out he was murdered by the terrorists; he had gone in for heart surgery and they sneaked something toxic into the anesthetic — and the leaders of the world’s 24 most important countries fly into London to attend his funeral. Only it’s a trap: despite the incredible security precautions, Barkawi’s terrorists crash the event by disguising themselves as London police officers and Buckingham Palace guardsmen. They start a major campaign that includes blowing up London’s most cherished landmarks (though for some reason the Big Ben tower is saved), assassinating some of the national leaders with car bombs (we get a nicely done scene of a man with a metal detector, ostensibly sweeping under a car for bombs but actually using the device to plant one) and targeting the others with death squads in the guise of rescuers, all to fulfill Barkawi’s desire to “bring the war home” to the West instead of allowing them to fight in the Middle East with lower-class recruits and unmanned drones. The fact that the terrorists are Middle Eastern is probably what made the director of Olympus Has Fallen, Antoine Fuqua, bail on the sequel (it was helmed by someone named Babak Najafi), since on the original film Fuqua had pleaded with the writers to have the terrorists come from somewhere — anywhere — other than the Middle East, and they had complied by making them Korean. After about 30 minutes of exposition London Has Fallen basically becomes action porn, but for some reason I liked this one better than its predecessor a) because it’s 20 minutes shorter, b) because Najafi is a less relentless director than Fuqua and the film is more evenly paced, with some actual moments of repose to build up tension and suspense between the action set-pieces, and c) because in this one Mike Banning and President Asher spend most of the crisis period together, trying to flee the terrorists until they can reach someone in the British government who isn’t compromised and can organize a counter-attack, and there’s an interesting buddy-buddy relationship between them even though the President is clearly the second banana of the team (an irony the writers may or may not have been conscious of).

There’s also a genuinely moving death scene for Angela Bassett, whose character is killed early on — Banning tries to get himself and the President out by helicopter, seemingly having forgotten the lesson from the first film on just how vulnerable helicopters are, and of course the terrorists shoot down both the President’s helicopter and the two other copters escorting it: the other two copters go down with all hands but the President and Banning survives, while Lynne Jacobs is fatally wounded and gets a big speech before he expires, saying she never thought Banning would outlive her and he’s got to keep himself alive long enough to see his child. Of course, the terrorists have a “mole” high up in British intelligence, and he turns out to be John Lancaster (Patrick Kennedy), head of MI5 (basically Britain’s FBI), who’s exposed by the one person in the British government President Asher and Banning can trust, MI6 (Britain’s CIA) head Jacquelin Marshall (Charlotte Riley, a nicely spunky and authoritative woman actor I’d like to see more of), when he inadvertently left open his laptop after he’d coded in the password to cancel Britain’s defenses against this sort of attack. There’s a nice John le Carré-ish scene in which she confronts John and asks him why he betrayed his country and the entire leadership of the Free World, and he says he agrees with the terrorists’ critique of how we’re running the war against them — “that, and 20 million euros,” he ruefully adds. London Has Fallen is a not-bad movie, a good 99-minute diversion that comes off as less relentless and therefore more pleasant than its predecessor, though the final peroration of how Britain will pull together and rebuild seems odd given that it’s about a city, and a country, that suffered far worse during World War II — months of aerial bombing from a world power (Nazi Germany) with a state-of-the-art air force — and it (mostly) did rebuild.