The Sterling Standard in Movie Reviews 

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The Butler Did It

Focus Features
 99 Minutes
Rated: R
Directed byBabak Najafi 
Starring: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart
London Has Fallen

Basically, there are two types of action movie sequels made today. There’s the big budget sequel that tries to build on the original and top it in every way possible to make an even bigger splash at the box office. And then there’s the sequel that’s simply an attempt to cash in on the success (usually unexpected) of the original and do so as cheaply as possible. London Has Fallen, sequel to the 2013 President-in-peril film, Olympus Has Fallen, ahem, falls squarely in the second category.


Olympus Has Fallen had the good fortune to hit the theaters a few months before the similarly themed White House Down and reap the benefit of some of the buzz the later film generated. So, it’s not surprising, first. that a sequel got made, and second, that the producers didn’t want to take too many chances here. So they start with a generic script that feels suspiciously as if it were originally the screenplay for a completely unrelated film and then hastily rewritten to accommodate the characters from Olympus. Then, they replace director Antoine Fuqua with a guy making his American feature film debut. And, instead of filming on location in London, they go to Bulgaria and then insert some obvious stock footage. Finally, to top it all off, they employ CGI-effects of Big Ben and London Bridge being destroyed that are so cheesily bad, they seem like outtakes from a Sharknado movie.


By all rights with a pedigree this questionable and a script that is woeful on many levels, London Has Fallen should be a complete, Razzie-worthy disaster. But it’s not. And primary credit for that should go to the replacement director, Babak Najafi, who manages to overcome a number of the limitations imposed upon him and produce some good action sequences.


That’s fortunate, since London Has Fallen is nearly all action. The British Prime Minister has just died and U.S. President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) and numerous other world leaders go to London for the funeral. What they don’t know is that the PM was actually murdered so that terrorists under the direction of Aamir Barkawi (Alon Aboutboui) could have a lot of easy targets to shoot at. Barkawi, an illegal arms dealer, was the target of a U.S. drone strike that went awry, killing his daughter-in-law to-be at her wedding to-be, and Barkawi and his son are angry and out for revenge.


Somehow, Barkawi manages to infiltrate the British army and police forces and have hundreds of heavily armed terrorists in place all around London. The terrorists know the location of almost all the world leaders so they can launch a coordinated strike, taking them down and blowing up London Bridge, Big Ben, the Tower of London, and CGI recreations of nearly every other recognizable London landmark at the same time as well.


That is, they can take down every world leader except Asher, since he has the indominatble Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) as the Secret Service agent protecting him. Much the same as the North Korean terrorists who assaulted the White House in Olympus  learned, these terrorists soon realize you don’t mess with Mike Banning. The terrorsts do manage to shoot down Asher’s helicopter with Stinger missiles, but Banning and Asher try to make their way on foot past numerous disposed-of terrorists to safety. However, not even Banning can prevent the terrorists from eventually capturing Asher and announcing their plans to livestream his execution for war crimes.


As this synopsis indicates, even by the somewhat relaxed logical standards of modern day thrillers, London Has Fallen defies belief. While recent real world events have shown with chilling clarity the ability of terrorists to launch sophisticated attacks in major European cities, the planning, manpower, and weaponry required for this scheme would make the D-Day scheme pale in comparison. Of course, they are easily able to outwit the army of British security forces arrayed against them, all of whom are portrayed as clueless idiots (except for the obligatory traitor in their midst). None of the terrorists’ sophisticated weaponry and manpower, however, gives them the ability to hit Banning with a single one of the thousands of rounds of ammunition fired at him, while his bullets hit their targets with amazing precision. And, of course, when it comes time for the eventual showdown with Banning, almost all of the terrorists seem to have vanished into the London fog save for a handful of computer geeks in their headquarters.


The film’s lapses in logic and credibility are so massive that they distracted even me. Also distracting is the exceedingly inept effects work, which cheapens the look of the entire movie. Even more distracting are the constant stream of bad one-line retorts Banning blurts out throughout the film in a misguided attempt to turn Gerard Butler into his fellow Scotsman, Sean Connery (at one point he tells Asher “I was wondering when you were coming out of the closet” after the latter has indeed emerged from his hiding place to shoot a terrorist who had Banning at a disadvantage).


Add these shortcomings to the street scenes that clearly weren’t filmed in London or any city remotely like London, and the movie’s exceedingly simplistic view of world politics, as exemplified by the way in which Banning gleefully dispenses sadistic mayhem to the villains, and London Has Fallen never fully recovers. That’s not to say, however, that the movie is a total disaster. It’s not. In fact, for those not completely put off by the film’s shock and awe, the movie can be quite entertaining in spots.


Director Najafi proves to be surprisingly adept in the action scenes, especially considering that several of them needed to be edited carefully to cover the fact that they lacked sufficient extras and the right stunt people to perform the more difficult stuntwork. Still, the chases, fistfights, and shootouts play well, and the action varies just enough as the movie progresses so that it doesn’t become repetitive. Najafi also has the benefit of a highly talented supporting cast. Even though holdovers from Olympus like Melissa Leo, Robert Foster, and Angela Bassett have relatively little to do, Morgan Freeman (as the Vice-President) gets to act appropriately dignified in a couple of scenes, always a boost for a film like this.


Is London Has Fallen tolerable to sit through? Yes, if you’re not put off by its heavy-handed simplistic politicizing or sadistic mayhem. Is it a guilty pleasure? Not quite, although Gerard Butler gives it his best. He’s not wildly chewing scenery as he did in Gods of Egypt, but his Mike Banning is appropriately gonzo, a poor man’s John McClane. As for London Has Fallen, it’s not memorable in either a good or bad way, but it’s a perfect example of a middling film, the sort of action movie that bridges the gap from January idiocy to genuine summer thrills. 

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London Has Fallen (2016) on IMDb