Through bizarre coincidence we got two Die–Hard-in-the-White-House movies in 2013: Roland Emmerich’s disappointing White House Down and the criminally underrated Olympus Has Fallen. I’m not going to try to say the script was any good because it wasn’t and watching Gerard Butler stumble his way through an American accent gives new credence to Liam Neeson’s decision to not even bother, but I really loved that movie. Thrilling action sequences and a compelling premise as well as a strong supporting cast made Olympus Has Fallen one the rough gems of 2013 and so I approached the sequel with higher expectations.
London Has Fallen takes place several years after the events of the first movie and continues to follow Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Butler), assigned to the personal security detail for President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart), now in his second term. After the British prime minister unexpectedly dies in his sleep from an apparent heart attack, the world’s leaders gather in London for the funeral. The highly protected event is thrown into chaos, however, when terrorists launch a coordinated attack across the city, killing the majority of the heads of state and sending London into lockdown. Stranded with no backup in increasingly hostile territory, Banning must endeavour to find a way to get Asher out of the city.
London Has Fallen bears the same strengths and weaknesses as its predecessor. The dialogue is uniformly terrible, a laughable mess of a script that searches way too much for pithy one liners to end action sequences and rarely ever finds them. The action sequences themselves on the other hand are outstanding, particularly the extended sequence that begins the attack on London. There’s no watered down action here: it’s bloody and visceral, a spiritual successor to the harder edged thrillers of the 1980’s, and there’s a distinct sense of danger that permeates every frame. This is undercut a little by the admittedly terrible CGI which pops up whenever the film does something extreme, but for the most part London Has Fallen tries to go about its business practically and the result is fantastic.
Equally successful is the talented cast, all of whom acquit themselves nicely. Gerard Butler still hasn’t figured out how to hide his Scottish brogue but he’s undeniably enthusiastic about the material. He and Eckhart have great chemistry and they’re given far more of a chance to showcase it this time around. Morgan Freeman returns and remains as commanding a presence as ever, while Colin Salmon, Charlotte Riley and Angela Bassett all shine in supporting roles. Sadly, the film doesn’t utilise some of its performers well at all: Academy Award winner Melissa Leo has maybe two lines in the whole thing, while Academy Award nominee Robert Forster does little except sit at a table and dramatically react as the film progresses. Worst of all is poor Radha Mitchell, who once again is saddled with an entirely extraneous character that could be totally excised from the movie with no repercussions whatsoever. The character was pointless in the first movie and the fact that the mistake was repeated here baffles me.
From a critical point of view, London Has Fallen is not a very good movie. It’s poor script, shoddy CGI and it’s underutilisation of some really talented supporting actors are all unfortunate echos from Olympus Has Fallen and it’s not a particularly intelligent picture as a whole. But there’s something to be said for sheer fun, and that’s something this movie has plenty of. Brutal, thrilling action sequences and admirable turns by every cast member make London Has Fallen a great, dumb popcorn movie and there’s nothing wrong with that.