London Has Fallen is the sequel to Olympus Has Fallen, the more serious of the two Die Hard-in-the-White-House movies released a couple of years ago. While White House Down embraced the silliness of the conceit, Olympus Has Fallen, with its character-identifying chyrons and dramatic, slow-motion shots of the American flag falling, tried to make it out that the events of the film were plausible, playing out as a right-wing fantasy of American exceptionalism through its abilitiy to kill foreigners. London Has Fallen doubles down on that, and becomes pretty disgusting in the process.
Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is in London guarding US President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) while he attends a state funeral. With so many of the world's leaders in one place, the city becomes a prime target for a coordinated terrorist attack. Arms dealer Aamir Barkawi, seeking retribution for a US strike that led to the death of his family, shuts the entire city down. The first wave of attacks leaves many of the world's most powerful people dead. But Barkawi is specifically demanding for the head of the US President. Mike is the president's sole chance of getting out of London alive.
The film quickly establishes its connection to the real world, its opening credits featuring snippets of reports about the SAF 44. Apparently, the film’s villain had something to do with the real life tragedy. This immediately makes for queasy viewing, as the movie calls to mind real life violence before plunging into its own particular brand of bombastic blockbuster violence. Might makes right in this movie, its main character a right-wing fantasy of a man with a righteous cause doing all manner of terrible things to a parade of nameless foreigners.
There is an unavoidable twinge of politics within this mindless killing. The film plays out like a propaganda piece for US foreign policy, particularly with regards to drone strikes. It basically presents a double standard for violence against people: it’s okay if the US is doing the killing. The villain may be motivated by the collateral damage caused by unregulated drone policy, but the characters are never made to reckon with their choices. He’s still just a bad guy, and his killing of innocent people is inherently worse than the US killing innocent people. The film makes its stance clear when near the end of the movie, the film resolves its most major conflict with another drone strike in what appears to be a populated section in the middle of a Yemeni city. Because we haven’t learned anything at all.
Of course, geopolitics likely won’t be on the mind of the people watching this film. It can just be written off as a dumb action movie. But on that level, the movie doesn’t really deliver, either. At best, if offers one somewhat solid sequence: an attack on a terrorist compound that largely takes place as one long take. Otherwise, the film is surprisingly inept. It never really feels like Banning is in much danger, the character laughing off the possibility of facing a hundred armed men. Without a sense of peril, these action sequences feel pretty limp. Gerard Butler growls well enough, but there is nothing to this character. Aaron Eckhart and the rest of the supporting cast are wasted on thankless roles.
If you put any thought into London Has Fallen, it’s pretty disgusting. Its attempt to give weight to its mindless action with the context of real life fears and tragedy turns it into a somewhat frightening right-wing propaganda piece that revels in the death of brown people as a whole. If you can somehow shut that out, it is conceivable that one might enjoy it as a delivery system for scenes of people being stabbed to death. But I implore people not to shut that out. London Has Fallen is a toxic piece of work, and it deserves some scorn.