Olympus Has Fallen’s surprise success compared to similar presidential siege film White House Down is why we’ve got a sequel three years later. This time terrorists attack the state funeral of the British Prime Minister in London, and Gerard Butler’s Secret Service bodyguard has to protect President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) once more, before he’s executed live for propaganda purposes. You also get a bit more Morgan Freeman, who’s always a joy to watch delivering dialogue, even if his role consists of sitting down in a control room and occasionally looking worried. That makes him about the most entertaining thing in this grim action flick.
It’s not that London Has Fallen is hugely different from the original, just that its worst elements have been amplified. The most grating thing is how these films think they’re telling a moving story of characters who are essentially family men struggling for freedom in an ever dangerous world. It’s why we have a flash-cut to Angela Bassett crying in slow-motion as her helicopter crashes, desperately trying to wring emotion from a moment that has none. The same extends to the completely extraneous opening set in Pakistan, an ostensible villainous set-up which is re-covered by exposition later on anyway. It’s only there to provide a bookends for the film’s very self-righteous messaging, which pays less-than-lip service to awareness of issues regarding American foreign intervention before proceeding to say “Don’t worry, we’re the good guys and we’ll get it right next time!”
The action itself is poor. Babak Najafi assumes directing duties from Antoine Fuqua, and the audacity of London‘s set-pieces amounts to things suddenly blowing up, with a coordinated take-out of several world leaders that relies on questionable CGI (another holdover from Olympus). Apart from some reasonable bullets and brawn fight sequences involving Butler thoroughly knifing terrorists, it too often defaults to video game direction. And you may call this a patriotic complaint, but the London setting really is pointless. Beyond the aforementioned digital explosions bit and a Tube station fight, the film could be set anywhere else in the world without noticeable difference.
Particularly egregious is the film’s extensive archive footage use (you’ll swear you’ll see traffic going backwards in one establishing shot), featuring Londoners casually walking the street even as Central London falls into confusion and terror. Next to the CGI, and the knowledge that this one was mostly shot in Bulgaria, it gives London Has Fallen the inevitable whiff of cheapness. Cheap enough that another major city will be felled in a future instalment? We shall see, but let’s hope the falling is all done now.
Jordan Adcock | @jordanreview