Released: 4 March 2016
Director: Babak Najafi
Distributor: Focus Features
Budget: $60 million
Stars: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Alon Moni Aboutboul, Waleed Zuaiter, Angela Bassett, and Morgan Freeman
When the world’s leaders arrive in London for the funeral of the British Prime Minister, a group of mercenaries led by Kamran Barkawi (Waleed Zuaiter) launch a co-ordinated attack on the city. Amidst the death and destruction, Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (Butler) is forced to traverse the war-torn streets of London in a desperate bid to keep United States President Benjamin Asher (Eckhart) safe and end the terrorist threat.
Though Olympus Has Fallen (Fuqua, 2013) received largely mixed reviews, the film was a box office success, making over $170 million against a $70 million budget (which was about $50 million more than a similar, far more expensive film released at the same time). A sequel was put into production a few years later, though director Antoine Fuqua was unable to return and the film’s release was pushed back after the original date coincided with the tenth anniversary of the 7 July 2005 London bombings. Though London Has Fallen received far more mixed to negative reviews than its predecessor, it was also much more successful at the box office, making over $205 million and ensuring the production of a third entry in the franchise.
While Olympus Has Fallen had many similarities to Die Hard (McTiernan, 1988), London Has Fallen actually has more in common with Die Hard with a Vengeance (ibid, 1995) in that it takes the bombastic, explosive action of the first film and expands it out into a desperate fight for survival across an entire city. Just as the last film’s unique selling point was the absolute decimation and hostile takeover of the White House, London Has Fallen makes the bold decision to place Mike, Asher, and all the returning characters in a completely different country, thus eliminating the home turf advantage Mike had in the first film.
After the events of the last film, Mike is back to his old self; his relationship with President Asher is as strong and amicable as ever, his wife Leah (Radha Mitchell) is pregnant, and he’s contemplating resigning his commission in order to be closer to home and provide for his growing family. There’s a definite sense of growth for the character, who is no longer burdened by guilt or grief and is, instead, struggling with giving up his beloved position in the Secret Service in order to be a more attentive husband and father. Once again, there isn’t really anything for Leah to do except be Mike’s moral compass and supportive rock; because she’s pregnant, she can’t accompany him to London and is left to watch in horror when the city is aggressively attacked. Her primary reason for being in the film is to lend Mike some additional humanity and motivation, and this is doubled this time around since Mike is naturally apprehensive (and a little overly protective) about the prospect of being a father.
This time around, our antagonists are Pakistani arms traffickers and terrorists led by Aamir Barkawi (Aboutboul); when the British military initiate a pre-emptive missile strike to take them out, Barkawi’s son, Kamran, leads a counterattack that sees London bombarded with a full-scale terrorist assault during the British Prime Minister’s funeral. Forty of the world’s governmental powers are in attendance for the funeral, the abruptness of which naturally puts Secret Service Director Lynne Jacobs (Bassett) on edge despite the reputation the British government has for security and routine. Mike is just as efficient and prepared as ever; the trip to London equally perturbs him because of how little time he has to prepare for it and a host of unknown factors but even he could never have prepared for the violence that suddenly erupts in the streets of London. Kamran arranges for car bombs and suicide bombers, has his men pose as emergency services and members of the Queen’s Guard to rain gunfire and grenades into the visiting delegates and crowd, and destroys a variety of iconic British landmarks.
The initial attack results in Jacobs’ sudden and violent death and forces Mike to flee into the London Underground with Asher; with the two compromised and under the constant threat of attack, the film becomes more of a protracted escort mission for Mike, who must constantly think on his feet to find ways of keeping Asher safe. This means that there’s a lot more for Eckhart to do this time around; he’s no mere helpless politician and, though the attack and violence of not just the terrorists but also Mike shakes him, he still retains that same defiant attitude and moxie as before and even orders Mike to kill him rather than let him be captured and publicly executed. Many of the characters from the previous film return, including now Vice President Allan Trumbull (Freeman), Secretary of Defense Ruth McMillan (Melissa Leo), and General Edward Clegg (Robert Forster). These are joined by White House Deputy Chief of Staff DC Mason (Jackie Earle Haley) and a host of new characters from the British government, including Commissioner Sir Kevin Hazard (Colin Salmon), MI6 agent Jacquelin “Jax” Marshall (Charlotte Riley), and SAS Captain Will Davies (Bryan Larkin).
As in the previous film, everyone gets a little onscreen blurb so you know who they are and what their position and title is but it’s these latter two who get the most influential screen time as, while the governmental figures debate with Barkawi and co-ordinate with Mike, Jax is instrumental in tracking down their mole and Davies and the SAS team provide him with actual, practical support in his effort to reach the captured President. Compared to the terrorist forces of the previous film, Kamran and his cohorts aren’t quite as blunt and vicious but are no less premeditated in their approach. Through subterfuge and technological innovation as much as brute force, Kamran is not only able to bring London to its knees and position his mercenaries across the city in an effort to track down Asher to have him executed but also able to effectively neuter any possible large scale counterattack since his men are posing as emergency services. Like before, though, a traitor to the ideals of freedom and justice allows Kamran the foothold he needs to launch this devastating attack as it turns out that MI5 Counter-Intelligence Chief John Lancaster (Patrick Kennedy) has betrayed his country.
Given that its setting has moved from the confined hallways and rooms of the White House to one of the biggest and most confusing cities in the world, London Has Fallen has a much wider variety of action scenes than its predecessor. Accordingly, we get an exhilarating car chase through the busy streets (that sees Mike driving in reverse at high speed at one point), widescale destruction of iconic landmarks, a massive helicopter crash that kills Jacobs, and a full-scale firefight in the narrow streets of London between Banning and his SAS support team and Kamran’s forces. Once Mike is left in charge of Asher’s safety, we once again get to see how meticulous, strategic, and adaptable he can be as he brutally murders one of Kamran’s men (who is posing as a police officer) and relieves him of his weaponry to clear out the London Underground station he initially flees to. In the process, he viciously beats and tortures one of Kamran’s men, slowly killing him and forcing Kamran to listen.
Mike’s brutality shakes Asher and Mike has to work to keep him focused and calm but remains a relentless, uncompromising machine when the shit hits the fan who never misses a trick (he has a knack for sensing when things are too quiet prior to an action sequence and even spots Kamran’s men by noticing that they’re not sweating). Having Asher with him allows Mike the chance to have someone physically there to talk to, which helps remind us of how flawed and relatable he is; he might be a cold, vicious killer who is able to meticulously beat, stab, and gun his enemies to death but he’s also very much an “Everyman” character, one who has concerns about fatherhood. Having Asher there gives Mike someone to build a rapport with in the heat of a pitched battle; he and Asher’s relationship if one of trust and respect and they share a brotherly bond, of sorts, that sees them trading quips and digs at each other to help relieve the stress of the situation. Asher is even able to pull his weight by shooting one of Kamran’s men to save Mike’s life rather than being a mere hostage this time around.
Of course, he does eventually become a hostage and Mike is once again forced to rely on guerrilla tactics to keep himself and Asher safe. This culminates in a tense sequence shot in near pitch darkness where Mike picks off Kamran’s men one by one to get to the President; it’s much more of a gruelling gauntlet than the last film and requires a different level of adaptability on Mike’s part. He’s far better equipped this time around, though, thanks to Davies, which means that he’s far more likely to rely on firearms or knives than straight-up hand-to-hand combat. Though he does end up in a brawl with Kamran at the end of the film, it’s not much of a challenge for him even after he is stabbed up a bit since Mike’s iron will and patriotism make him an indomitable force to be reckoned with.
London Has Fallen is a much bigger, far grander story than its predecessor; by opening the film up and expanding its scope, it gives us the opportunity to see how well Mike adapts to different scenarios and showcases a slightly different side to his personality and nature. Although no longer hampered by grief, he’s nonetheless seriously considering retirement in the face of his impending fatherhood, but the entire experience galvanises his resolve to continue his commission and, even in the face of overwhelming odds, he remains steadfast and resolute. Again, the overall themes of patriotism are kind of lost on me but the film has slightly more appeal since it’s set in my home country and there’s plenty for action movie junkies to enjoy here, from Mike’s occasional dry sense of humour, to all-out firefights and explosive action, to some brutal melee combat. I’m not really sure why the film didn’t resonate with critics as well as the first one as it’s a decent escalation of the previous movie; maybe it’s the fact that it moves away from one man’s desperate, lone attempt at fending off terrorists to a much wider, urban environment or the far less compelling villain but I thought it was decent enough and may, actually, prefer it to the first film in some areas (specifically the most important parts: the action and the characterisations, especially of Mike and Asher).
What are your thoughts on London Has Fallen? Did you prefer it to the first film or did it not resonate with you in quite the same way? What did you think to Mike this time around and the way he was presented compared to the first film? Were you happy to see President Asher have a more proactive role or would you have preferred to see Jax or Davies get more screen time? What did you think to the terrorist threat and the depiction of widespread destruction in London, as opposed to America, and which of the Fallen trilogy is your favourite? Whatever your thoughts on London has Fallen go ahead and exercise your constitutional right to leave a comment down below.