Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Movie Review: 'London Has Fallen'

Back in 2013, Antoine Fuqua teamed up with Gerard Butler for a gritty take on what would happen if the White House was attacked by terrorists with Olympus Has Fallen—a few months later we got the more humorous, bro-tastic take on the same story, with Channing Tatum’s White House Down. Well, it wasn’t enough for the White House to go down, and now we have the follow up, London HasFallen. Handed off to Snabba Cash 2 director Babak Najafi, London Has Fallen is a ridiculous, direct-to-video-style blast of full frontal action. If a DTV movie had the budget to mostly level one of the major metropolises in the world, that’s what this is. So much better than the first movie, this knows exactly what it is and what its audience wants, and delivers with gusto and glee.

London Has Fallen starts off with 15 minutes worth of set up and exposition, where we pick up with Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), the Secret Service Agent in charge of protecting the President of the United States (Aaron Eckhart). A few years removed from their last adventure, their bromance has blossomed once again, and they act more like frat buddies than the most powerful man in the world and his bodyguard—Banning says stuff like he’s made out of “bourbon and poor choices.” True to form, Banning has a baby on the way, to up the stakes even more, and he wants to resign his post, though no one knows—we only find out as he tries to pen his generic resignation letter. If you’ve seen any movie ever, you know the guy on the verge of retirement is bound for trouble.

When the British Prime Minister dies suddenly, and under mysterious circumstances, the President, along with every other world leader, heads to London for the funeral. What could possibly go wrong? Security is, of course, at “unprecedented” levels, though Banning knows it’s a clusterfuck straight away. Things, as you probably guess, do not go particularly well. A massive, well-coordinated attack by vengeful arms dealer Aamir Bakawi (Alon Aboutboul)—he says things like, “Don’t forget his family, vengeance must always be profound”—takes down most of the city. With London engulfed in flames, and many heads of state dead, Banning must lead the President through a city that has been completely taken over by terrorists and goons, leaving a trail of bodies and destruction in their wake.

All of the set up takes just a few minutes, and once the first bullet flies, London Has Fallen is relentless, bug-nuts crazy action that doesn’t let up until the end. Just when it appears that the pace is about to ease back to allow for story or character, or for the heroes to take a breath, Najafi shrugs his shoulders and is like, “Nah, no one want to see that shit,” Gerard Butler says something badass, like, “Why don’t you go back to Fuckheadistan,” and the pedal hits the floor once again.

This is simple, straightforward, balls-out action, and I’m amazed and grateful that it didn’t just go directly to video. There are heroic white guys, brown people that are all evil, there’s a mole, and the story doesn’t really matter. For a guy who wants to stay alive to see his baby, Banning has no qualms about throwing himself into a situation where he literally takes on a building full of 100 bad guys by himself, in large part in a bonkers CGI “one-take” action shot.

London Has Fallen knows precisely what movie it is. This is gritty action the likes of which doesn’t hit theaters often anymore. At times brutally violent—Banning holds a walkie up to a man’s mouth and guts him while his brother listens on the other end—it pretends to have a larger point about endless war and U.S. actions making more and more enemies. It does start out with a drone strike annihilating a wedding in Pakistan, but it’s more concerned with things like Banning stabbing a dude in the eye, pulling the knife out of his corpse, and stabbing another dude repeatedly.

London Has Fallen is the kind of movie that introduces rooms full of side characters with nothing more than names on the screen because they are of so little consequence. We’re talking about Oscar winners and nominees, too. Morgan Freeman as the Vice President has the most to do, but is basically there so he can deliver a single badass line at the end—and who doesn’t want to see Morgan Freeman get to be a badass, even for a moment? Melissa Leo has a few lines, but is more or less mute. To be honest, I’m not even sure that Robert Forester speaks in this movie. Maybe they just reused old footage from Olympus Has Fallen. But that doesn’t matter since none of them are worth wasting any time on.

London Has Fallen is exactly what it sets out to be. This is big, dumb, jingoistic (there’s a serious, “Fuck ‘em if they ain’t us” vibe throughout), stripped-down action with a budget, fronted by a grim, shit-talking hero with homicidal tendencies that would be psychotic in any other realm. If that’s your jam, this movie is for you. Fortunately for me, this is totally where I live. Full of eminently quotable lines, half the dialogue is lifted from other movies, and while London Has Fallen isn’t John Wick good, it’s in the same category of non-stop, straight-up action that I grew up on and that I absolutely adore. [Grade A]

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