Film Review: ‘London Has Fallen’

'London Has Fallen' Review: Britain Takes
Courtesy of Lionsgate

If nothing else, this dim, drab, xenophobic sequel to 'Olympus Has Fallen' points up everything 'White House Down' did right.

“By seeing London, I have seen as much of life as the world can show,” said Samuel Johnson in 1773, as quoted by biographer James Boswell. By seeing “London Has Fallen,” on the other hand, Johnson may conversely have marveled at a veritable cornucopia of death — the grisly, indiscriminate slaying of world leaders and common men, the swift pulverization of city infrastructure, and the slower decimation of any unsuspecting viewer’s brain cells. Aiming low and still managing to limbo its way under that bar, Babak Najafi’s cement-headed sequel to 2013’s POTUS-in-peril thriller “Olympus Has Fallen” shifts and expands the battleground from the White House to the Big Smoke, while maintaining a cozily American jingoism in its narrative scope and stakes. Cruddily crafted, grimacingly performed and effortlessly racist, this sloppy dish of Gruel Britannia may just go down well enough to green-light a continuing franchise of global destruction. World capitals quiver.

Three years ago to the month, action journeyman Antoine Fuqua’s “Olympus Has Fallen” reaped the benefits of a modest budget and minimal expectations. Released months ahead of Roland Emmerich’s far wittier, more accomplished but near-identically plotted “White House Down,” “Olympus” was pegged as the cheapjack warm-up act for a predicted summer smash — only to wind up outgrossing Emmerich’s superior slab of cheese by nearly $30 million. Even within the exclusive realm of bad taste, there’s no accounting for it.

Now, with Iranian-born Swede Najafi (“Easy Money II: “Hard to Kill”) filling in for Fuqua, “London Has Fallen” arrives with only the unimposing memory of its predecessor to compete against. Somehow, it falls short. Where “Olympus” was at least cloddishly good-humored in its “Die Hard” stylingsthere’s something coldly snarling and vindictive about its sequel’s flag-waving — not to mention a presumptuousness that global auds will invest equally in its on-screen fight for American leaders and freedoms, at any cost to those of other nations.

London certainly provides an attractive backdrop to the carnage: If you’re going to blow up any thoroughfare, after all, it may as well be one as storied and scenic as Chelsea Bridge, while the Houses of Parliament look smashing even when smashed to suboptimal CG smithereens. In no other sense is Blighty flattered here, however, as the pic’s story (by returning scribes Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt) hinges on the country’s government, police force and intelligence service being unreservedly inept, corrupt, or some combination of the two. No wonder Secret Service director Lynne Jacobs (Angela Bassett, thanklessly stentorian as ever) discourages Aaron Eckhart’s President Benjamin Asher from leaving the eternally secure confines of the U.S. when Britain’s Prime Minister unexpectedly drops dead. Must he really attend the poor Limey’s funeral? Won’t a nice wreath from Interflora do?

Bloody-minded diplomat that he is, Asher insists on showing his transatlantic solidarity in person — with his trusty, venison-bodied protection agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) in tow to guard him against bumbling British incompetence and devious terrorist machinations of farther-flung origin. While North Korea was the enemy in “Olympus,” “London” predictably reverts to familiar Islamophobia, as infamous Pakistani arms dealer Aamir Barkawi (Alon Moni Aboutboul) vows vengeance on the West for a drone strike that — as depicted in a sun-scorched pre-credit sequence — fatally ruined his daughter’s wedding. A solemn gathering of world leaders at St. Paul’s Cathedral provides the perfect opportunity; in short order, terrorist minions in bobby-on-the-beat disguise are gunning down civilians in the street, revered London landmarks are crumbling to dubiously digitized dust, and the German, French, Italian and Japanese heads of state have all joined their British counterpart at the great global summit in the sky. (Don’t mourn the Italian, though — we’re shown he was a total lech.)

As London goes into lockdown, the city’s darkening streets effectively become an ever-less-distinct obstacle course for Asher and Banning, breathlessly dodging Barkawi’s clutches as Vice-President Morgan Freeman and senior staff Melissa Leo, Robert Forster and Jackie Earle Haley twiddle their white-knuckled thumbs back in D.C. (One would complain that they’re underused, though perhaps the greater offense is that such fine actors are being used for this tripe at all.) For all the slicing and dicing of the editing, narrative momentum grinds to a trudge after the synthetic spectacle of the capital’s undoing. Bar one careering helicopter chase, Najafi and his quartet of screenwriters haven’t drawn up many action set pieces that extend beyond Butler lustily cracking skulls and hawking, in a semi-Scots brogue as American as apple pie, such apparently cheer-worthy lines as, “Get back to F—kheadistan or wherever it is you’re from.”

There may well be viewers receptive to this ugly brand of reactionary fear-mongering, which — thanks to a release date postponed from last October — can claim accidental topicality in the wake of November’s horrific Paris attacks. But that’s not to credit a scrap of cultural or political perspicacity to a film in which seasoned White House advisors observe with wonder that a massive terrorist strike on the U.K. is “all over social media too.” A film this incurious about the world it demolishes is perhaps smarter when it plays dumb, though even at its most purely physical, “London Has Fallen” remains short on style, rhythm or even tacky formal bravado: Ed Wild’s widescreen lensing, often swamped in all that translucent-looking effects work, trades in smeary shades of steel, while the marching-band thrum of Trevor Morris’s score steers sternly clear of memorable riffs.

For better or worse, it says much about the remit of “London Has Fallen” that a film starring such potentially fascinating thesps as Freeman, Eckhart and Leo permits its most fully realized performance to be given by Butler — nothing if not a committed kicker of ass, even as his 2016 filmography, still sweat-drenched from the debatable exertions of “Gods of Egypt,” perversely races itself to the bottom. What moments of conviction this silly-yet-cynical pic has belong to him, albeit usually in service of its most vacantly chest-beating sentiments. “Assholes like you have been trying to kill us for a long time,” he growls to one villain-by-numbers, “but in a thousand years we’ll still be here.” With any luck, this franchise will not.

Film Review: 'London Has Fallen'

Reviewed at Soho Hotel screening room, London, Feb. 25, 2016. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 98 MIN.

Production

A Focus Features (in U.S.)/Lionsgate (in U.K.) release of a Gramercy Pictures presentation of a Millennium Films, G-BASE production. Produced by Gerard Butler, Alan Siegel, Mark Gill, John Thompson, Matt O'Toole, Les Weldon. Executive producers, Avi Lerner, Trevor Short, Boaz Davidson, Christine Crow, Heidi Jo Markel, Zygi Kamasa, Guy Avshalom. Co-producer, Peter Heslop. Co-eexecutive producer, Lonbie Ramati.

Crew

Directed by Babak Najafi. Screenplay, Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt, Christian Gudegast, Chad St. John; story, Rothenberger, Benedikt, based on their original characters. Camera (color, widescreen), Ed Wild; editors, Paul Martin Smith, Michael; J. Duthie; music, Trevor Morris; music supervisor, Selena Arizanovic; production designer, Joel Collins; art director, Bill Crutcher; set decorator, Richard Roberts; costume designer, Stephanie Collie; sound, Vladimir Kaloyanov; supervising sound editor, Lee Walpole; re-recording mixers, Chris David, Stuart Hilliker; visual effects supervisor, Sean Farrow; visual effects, Worldwide FX, Peerless, Baseblack, Intelligent Creatures, UPP, Union, The Senate VFX, Painting Practice; stunt coordinators, Steve Griffin, Diyan Hristov; line producers, Veselin Karadjov, Valentin Dimitrov, Dileep Singh Rathore; associate producer, Daniel Kaslov; assistant director, Ben Burt; second unit director, Steve Griffin; second unit camera, Lorenzo Senatore; casting, Elaine Grainger.

With

Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Alon Moni Aboutboul, Radha Mitchell, Charlotte Riley, Patrick Kennedy, Melissa Leo, Jackie Earle Haley, Robert Forster, Waleed Zuaiter, Sean O'Bryan, Colin Salmon, Nancy Baldwin, Philip Delancy, Alex Giannini, Elsa Mollien, Tsuwayuki Saotome, Penny Downie, Deborah Grant. (English, Urdu, French, Italian, Japanese dialogue)

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  1. monkinsane says:

    Oh look! Another movie critic hailing from the regressive left.I’m still trying to figure out how the movie is apparently “effortlessly racist”.

    Why, because it shows middle-eastern men engaged in terrorism? I hate to break it to you but that region is the source of most terrorism in the world, whether the regressive left wants to admit that or not. But I guess the facts don’t exactly align with their “Islam is a religion of Peace” narrative – so they try and discredit anything that might sway public opinion away from them – even a FICTIONAL STORY.

  2. TeaRunner says:

    This guy needs to decide if he’s a movie critic or a poltical pundit.

  3. Adam Schowen says:

    Typical trash by a “movie critic”. I will admit without feeling bad about it that I have never seen this film. But I can probably say I would enjoy it a little bit at least. I swear that anytime I read a “critics” review on a movie and it gets horrible ratings I end up LOVING the movie. And the movies these so called “critics” give the thumbs up to usually either put me to sleep or make me want to vomit the same vile way that they do on a daily basis towards good films.

    If you truly LOVE film, TV, Broadway or anything of the sort then learn to NEVER listen to a critic. Their uppity false sense of self is sickening. The only good thing I have found about critics like this “critic” is that whatever they say….take it as wrong. I have learned through life and listening to these so called critics who are supposed to be professional and relate to the populace with their expertise that 99.9% of the time they get it wrong.

    My rule as far as critics and movies go is this and it’s very simple….critic gives a thumbs up….the movie is usually horribly boring and I can’t make it through the entire movie in the theatre or at home. If a critic gives a horrible review then most likely it’s a GREAT movie that many people will love.

    TO DUMB UP MY COMMENT….oops worry I meant…to sum up my comments and opinions…..these critics are ridiculous, have no true soul and should NOT be paid for their lame reviews. If society leaned on critics soley for their opinions on what to watch we would have a society of half witted Neanderthals watching movies.

  4. Victoria says:

    Just saw it today, knowing nothing about it beforehand. THOROUGHLY enjoyed it. So tired of snotty critics. Would definitely recommend this movie

  5. Todd Everett says:

    Just saw it at a second-run theater and had a terrific time. — the picture was over-the-top in (as I saw it) a knowing way, like Roadrunner cartoons and my favorite not-quite Dirty Harry Clint Eastwood film, “The Gauntlet.” Sometimes a movie is just a movie…

  6. It was a pretty good film. Be cautious if you see the word “racist” in a review. It generally means that the reviewer’s political sensibilities have outweighed his or her professionalism. In the present case it the movie is about a terrorist act. In Europe. With wanton murder and destruction. Who do you think was responsible? The Baptists?

  7. Amir mohammed says:

    I thought it was a good film.if you wanted cinderella then watch that instead.
    Its a action film expect action .

  8. Jenna Stewart says:

    Another words the author made a pass at Butler and he rebuked him.

  9. Are you a film critic, or the P.C. police?

  10. Greg Price says:

    This film is “racist” because Islamic terrorists don’t exist…riiiight…Islamics NEVER do this sort of thing…

    Someone needs to get out more if they fall for that.

  11. Kellen says:

    Well, that’s definitely going to send several people I know to the theatre to watch it.
    I think you’re taking this movie far too seriously: accidental topicality? Heaven save us: it could only be topical if anyone assumed it had anything whatever to do with reality.

    It’s an action movie, wherein, as apparently everyone but you knows, the bad guys are invariably criminal or insane or both, since remotely normal people don’t resolve their personal issues by blowing complete strangers, noted or otherwise, into the sweet by-and-by,and couldn’t afford an army of suicidal/homicidal henchmen to carry out their megalomaniacal plans, anyway. The politicians/police/civil servants are all corrupt or clueless, except one maverick who believes/helps out the hero — because if they were as competent as they are in RL, you’d have a four-minute movie, which isn’t likely to be profitable. The good guys — unless we lose one to provide a tug at the heartstrings — manage to survive everything short of a direct hit with an atomic bomb, dispose of the henchmen with an efficiency and insouciance most of us secretly wish we could find in ourselves when dealing with in-laws who came from hell in a first class compartment, and go home to live happily ever after. The villain, very much unlike RL, comes to a very definite end — unless there’s the possibility of a sequel, of course. The language is usually risqué at best — but the plots of action movies are unlikely enough without the hero (or heroes) declaiming “Bird thou never wert” or snippets from Shakespeare, and a blunt, if crude, hero is infinitely to be preferred to the politically correct version, who witters on about her/his distaste for violence — despite using it with an effortlessness that would leave Hannibal Lecter in need of smelling salts — until you long to send her/him the e-mail address of New Careers.

    Incidentally, I found the beginning awkward for the same reason you found it reprehensible: if putting his family at risk wasn’t on the villain’s preferred options list, he could have considered a somewhat less dangerous career choice. But as I say — it’s an action movie. I expect sense out of fact-based outings like Selma, not updated versions of the John Wayne western.

  12. Harvey davidson says:

    Us ordinary inert hillbilly hicks rednecks etc reject critics views and the lower their rating the more we like them has nothing to do with whether it’s racist or not we figure the higher the rating the more mind numbing BORING it will be because it is not for the common person but for the sophisticated we like more action and less drama and less music and dialogue we like what you probably call crap

  13. syzito says:

    Hey Islam isn’t a race,it’s a religious belief system based on the ancient Arabic moon god ,that’s why the Muslim flag has a crescent moon on it.

  14. Responsible Critic says:

    Yes — too much swearing. For Guy Lodge to consider this movie racist leads one to believe that he hates America or is uneducated as a critic. From the looks of him on the web he looks just like the British traitor in the movie. For him to hate America so much he must be mad at his mom or dad and needs something to vent on. One may also think he would dodge his responsibility to serve his country. Strap hangar critics come a dime a dozen.

  15. “Cruddily crafted?” and in bold face no less. Anyone actually check this copy? Try CRUDELY

    • guylodge says:

      Per Oxford Reference:

      cruddy adj. [crud n. + sfx -y]
      1 (also crud, crudding) useless, no good, second-rate.

      “Crudely” would also have been an appropriate choice of adverb, but was not the one intended. .

      • steven ramos says:

        Let me guess. You were pretty harsh on die hard too? Internet critics are on war paths to try and kill action movies. They want everything to be “the Danish girl” or “the Kings speech”. Wake up. My generation has a respect for both. They both have a place. Fortunately enough, only senior citizens seem to be affected by reviews.

  16. patrick king says:

    If everything in the movie was the same but the terrorists were actually white Christian fundamentalists you would be talking about how great the movie is and it would probably win an Oscar for best picture.

  17. Chris Luke says:

    The movie may stink, but not for its alleged racism or xenophobia. This reviewer lives in a reality-free zone like most leftists. Last time I checked, Muslims are the only real plausible villains these days for a movie like this. “Islamaphobia is a myth. That I reality.

  18. Lady Grantham, Downton Abbey says:

    I suppose a film reviewer who decries racism whilst simultaneously describing my compatriots as ‘Limeys’ could be termed a drivelling turd-brained hypocrite – but that would be impolite.

  19. Caitlin says:

    Um, you might want to spell capitol right in the headline. Not capital. Just saying

    • guylodge says:

      capitol: a building in which a state legislative body meets

      capital: a city serving as a seat of government

      Per Merriam-Webster, and I intend the latter, but thanks for checking.

  20. Al stone says:

    I hope the reviewer and editors read these comments and takes to heart the message; people are tired of liberal pc nonsense infecting every review. It has to stop.

  21. The critic is, of course, just another stupid liberal. This movie is great fun. Cheesy yes, but hardly racist. It is reflective of the world we live in today. Islamic extremists are the enemy… and to portray otherwise is truly stupid and inaccurate.

  22. This review would be better suited for AlJazeeraUSA than Variety. As an action film, it had quality stunts, CGI, and pacing. It lacked credibility, as many action films do, but the film actually showed considerable PC restraint in depicting the perps as greedy arms dealers rather than genuine jihad monkeys, who embody this century’s Pareto principle for evil.

  23. Mr. Lodge:
    This is the WORST Freaking review I have EVER READ. Your pacifistic snot is all over the page.
    How about acting? or How GOOD were the special effects?and How believable were the characters?
    Islamaphobia ??? Did this film ALL Muslims as the enemy? (NO it did not) Was all of the stupidity in the film restricted to Muslim characters ? NO it was not Another joke to “Lodge” at your expense.
    Get a new job. As a film reviewer, you’re the joke.

    and PS – BOTH “Olympus has fallen” and ‘White house down” were excellent films: One for fans that like to listen a lot and one for fans that like to watch things happening.
    You .. I neither wish to listen to or read. I will learn to forgo and ignore any more Variety Mistakes, e.g. allowing you to review films.

  24. Jim Sunye says:

    Guy-
    Its so great to see filmakers dispencing with this insane political correctness that requires all bad guys to either be N Korean or white and from an unamed eastern European country. We all know who the terrorists are. No harm comes from saying it out loud. Calling things as they are and not how we would prefer them to be is realism.

    Anytime I read a review like yours that tags a movie as having a racist perspective my PC radar goes up and I become more interested in seeing the movie. 300 was attacked mercilessly and for what? Look how great it did.

    Nobody wants a racist movie or one that perpetuates stereotypes. But enough with the PC garbage. Let the movie suck on its own merits.

    • monkinsane says:

      I would actually like to thank guy, I had no intention of watching it – then I came accross this leftist nut-jobs review and decided it’s a must-see.

  25. Tim says:

    Absolutely unbelievable review! Variety should can this writer’s ___!

  26. It’s always funny when lefty critics spend more of the review discussing politics than the actual film itself. And, btw, what exactly does “islamophobia” mean? Is it knowing the simple fact that most of the terrorism around the world is committed by Radical Islamic extremists?

  27. Fluff says:

    The reviewer’s use of the non word Islamophobia discredits him entirely and reveals his leftist lemming leanings. I’m all the more eager to see the film.

  28. Lawrence says:

    Saw it last night and thought it was better than the first one. Mindless action, sure, but that’s what i wanted and that’s what I got. This review seems a little pompous.

  29. ;lk says:

    White House Down was boring garbage… but it did feature white villains. Therefore it’s awesome, according to the reviewer. Muslims as villains is “xenophobic”. Movie criticism has completely collapsed. Now nothing more than leftwing politicking…

  30. rider2016 says:

    Why does Lodge feel the need to tell us the director is “Iranian-born” Do you point out the birthplace of every director you review or are you making a political point of it?

  31. Bill says:

    Why would anyone want to pay for what is basically the same bad film again?!

  32. Clint Bronson says:

    Sorry for typo – it should have read ‘thinkers’!

  33. Clint Bronson says:

    We don’t need ‘reactionary fear-mongering’ film makers to make the tinkers among us aware that Islam poses the greatest threat to western civilisation in its entire history. The Muslim crazies do a perfectly good job. I am SICK of politically-correct idiots bleating about ‘xenophobia’ and Islamophobia’.

  34. Jeffo says:

    Hey, Guy Lodgedon’t sugarcoat it — tell us how you really feel about.

  35. Paul says:

    “effortlessly racist”… “While North Korea was the enemy in “Olympus,” “London” predictably reverts to familiar Islamophobia, as infamous Pakistani arms dealer Aamir Barkawi (Alon Moni Aboutboul) vows vengeance on the West for a drone strike that — as depicted in a sun-scorched pre-credit sequence — fatally ruined his daughter’s wedding”

    Is the writer able to explain how the film is racist or Islamophobic? Your article reads as trying to make such links because the terrorists in the film, according to this article, come from Pakistan. The film hasn’t been released yet so I don’t know if that is so nor if the terrorists are identified as Islamic but I’m bemused by your objecting to the idea Islamic terrorists might just attack the West or that it is Islamophobic to portray that, if that is your objection. Presumably it was equally unrealistic and racist to have North Korean terrorists in Olympus Has Fallen. Because like ISIS or Al-Qaeda, they’ve never made such threats.

  36. taffy says:

    I had full intention of watching this movie already but after this liberal crybaby review, I’m going to buy twice as many tickets.

  37. Carlton Kent says:

    The guy playing the villain is Israeli, and for his part, probably wouldn’t mind if this stirs up more Islamophobia..

    • ............. says:

      You know what stirs up Islamophobia? Endless Muslim terrorism, violence, rape, war, murder, fanaticism and hatred. Don’t blame the jews.

  38. Sounds great. Moscow next ?

    • Rex says:

      Beijing, although nobody could possibly save 87 million communist party members blown up at a summit or what have you, and worse, most Chinese would probably see it as a cause for celebration.

  39. Tony says:

    UM…IT’S AN ACTION MOVIE…not The Danish Girl…live with it!

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