Although neither as ambitious nor as surprising as Antoine Fuqua’s “Olympus Has Fallen” (2013), the sequel “London Has Fallen” (*** OUT OF ****) qualifies as a good, old-fashioned, slam-bang, action thriller that should appeal to anybody who craved “The Expendables” movies. “300” star Gerard Butler reprises his role as indestructible, straight-shooting Secret Service Agent Mike Banning, and he bais U.S. President Ben Asher’s butt out of another predictable, but electrifying predicament as terrorists swarm around them like furious hornets. A quartet of scenarists, Christian Gudegast of “Beyond the City Limits” and Chad St. John of “The Punisher, Dirty Laundry” co-scripted with “Olympus” creators Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benedikt who also came up with the story, has shifted the setting from Washington, D.C., to London, England. The chief difference here is our hero, who claims to be made out of “bourbon and bad choices,” takes seemingly sadistic pleasure in torturing the trigger-happy villains. Squeamish spectators are duly warned because this occurs more than once. In Hollywood movies, the heroes are given special dispensation to torment homicidal terrorists as often as heartless Nazis and other intolerant racist dastards. Banning stabs one terrorist to death slowly and lets the terrorist’s ruthless brother at the other end of a cell phone listen to his sibling die in agony. Indeed, Banning displays minimal emotion when turning terrorists into sieves with one kind of weapon or another. Some of them Banning dispatches at long range with an assault rifle and others at close range with his pistol. Iranian-born Swedish director Babak Najafi, who helmed “Easy Money 2: Hard to Kill,” gives neither the heroes nor the villains the luxury to loiter in this tense, nail-biting, 100-minute melodrama that corners our good guys from the get-go and doesn’t let them relax until the final quarter hour. Mind you, nothing about “London Has Fallen” is remotely believable, and the characters are all one-dimensional. Banning is the only one to change over time; he becomes a father by fade-out. Once they arrive in London, the entire story elapses in less than 24 hours. Nevertheless, Butler’s gutsy performance as an audacious hero who doesn’t stop shooting until he runs out of lead, a brawny as well as believable cast, and the scenic city on the River Thames are its best assets.
Unlike the rogue North Koreans who manufactured the mayhem in “Olympus Has Fallen,” vengeance-driven Middle Eastern terrorists plan the pandemonium in “London Has Fallen.” Affluent arms merchant Aamir Barkawi (Alon Aboutboul of “Rambo 3”) and his eldest son Kamran (Waleed Zuaiter of “Jihad”) orchestrate payback for a Pentagon drone strike that missed them, but killed their sister at her wedding in Pakistan. Miraculously, Aamir and Kamran survived the devastation. The Pentagon bombing takes place two years before the anarchy erupts in “London.” News of the death of British Prime Minister Jim Wilson brings foreign heads of state to London to attend Wilson’s funeral. Banning and Secret Service Director Lynne Jacobs (Angela Bassett of “Innocent Blood”) accompany President Asher. We are given glimpses of several other heads of state in London in route to Wilson’s funeral. No sooner than the Americans arrive at St. Paul’s Cathedral do the terrorists launch their strike. Fanatics masquerading as British police as well as the red-uniformed Queen’s Guard open fire on the German Chancellor. One foreign dignitary is blown up in his car after a terrorist disguised as a policeman attaches a bomb with a device used to search under vehicles. Asher is standing on the steps of St. Paul conversing with a member of the Prime Minister’s cabinet when the fusillade of gunfire surprises everybody. Only a moment before the debacle, Agent Mike Banning complained that something wasn’t right, but he couldn’t decide what bothered him. Banning hustles the President into their bulletproof SUV, and they careen toward the Presidential choppers on the ground with terrorists on bikes strafing their vehicle. Terrorists kill the SUV driver, but Banning, Asher, and Jacobs make it to the choppers. London landmarks explode during this bedlam. The Marine choppers make it aloft. Terrorists wielding surface to air missiles demolish all three helicopters. Miraculously, Banning, Asher, and Jacob survive the crash of their chopper. The action focuses on Banning and Asher as more terrorists on bikes assemble around the crash site, and they have to leave Jacobs behind. Eventually, Banning and Asher reach an MI-6 safe house, but the rescue team that Vice President Alan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman of “The Shawshank Redemption”) sends in doesn’t make it. Instead, a bogus bunch reach Asher and Banning and storm the safe house. Our heroes careen off in another bulletproof car. Naturally, Mike Banning leads a charmed life, and he brings down more than his share of terrorists. At times, the shoot-outs in “London” resemble a high body count Hong Kong action-thriller.
“Olympus Has Fallen” was released roughly twelve years after the 9/11 tragedy, and the filmmakers tapped into the terrible memory of that event. Director Babak Najafi started shooting “London Has Fallen” in October 2014, and filming concluded in February 2015 before the horrific Paris massacre made headlines in November 2015. Although it takes place in a different city under different circumstances, “London Has Fallen” derives a modicum of plausibility from the Paris massacre as “Olympus” did from 9/11. Unlike “Olympus” that exploited that anxiety, “London” foreshadowed it. Some commentators’ have contended cynically that the producers could forge a franchise from this formula with Banning and Asher visiting other capitals and encountering disorder. Compared to “Olympus,” “London” is far less ambitious. Several actors and actresses along with Butler have recreated their roles for “London,” and one of them bites the dust. This character’s demise is the only genuine surprise. The President mentions his son in this sequel, but we never get to see him. Basically, Banning and Asher stomp the ground in “London.” Although it carbon copies the formula from “Olympus Has Fallen,” “London Has Fallen” generates considerable suspense and ranks as an above-average urban action thriller.
“Your imagination can take you where nothing else can.” Van Roberts