During the opening moments of LONDON HAS FALLEN, I began to wonder exactly what kind of a film this was shaping up to be. Set to an audio bed of ripped-from-the-headlines news commentary, we’re treated to a timely montage of international terrorism and unrest, that leads to a sequence in which a U.S.-manned drone bombs a wedding in hopes of killing a terrorist leader. I asked myself, “Hmm, is this going to be some sort of political pot-boiler of an action film that has something to say?“
After another 20 or 30 minutes of setup, though, once the action got going I quickly had the answer to my question: No. It’s not. But that’s not a bad thing. While LONDON HAS FALLEN isn’t particularly high-minded, and doesn’t really address some of the tougher questions that its plot would undoubtedly lead to in real life, what it does do is deliver one hell of an action movie.
I don’t do summaries, but in short: The President (Aaron Eckhart) has to take a sudden trip to London to attend the funeral of the British Prime Minister. All hell breaks loose. He and his bodyguard (Gerard Butler) have to find a way to get out of London and figure out why they, and the city of London, are under attack.
Butler’s Mike Banning is an unadulterated badass and, in an age of anti-heroes, and pretentiously complex protagonists, he’s a breath of fresh air. He’s a good guy, through and through, who just gets things done. He’s loyal, a tad reckless, and probably a bit of a sadist, but he’s all hero. Banning is a character that harkens back to John McClane from DIE HARD, and it’s his decidedly old school badass-ery that makes him stand out.
The film’s plot is heavy on action, light on logic, and if you’re going to go see a straight-up action flick you should be fine with that before even entering the theater. While there was nothing that was so dumb that it pulled me out of the movie, I definitely had to suspend disbelief a few too many times in order to not get snagged by questions. Thankfully, the action and the dialogue was strong enough that I didn’t mind checking my brain at the door- which is really the best you can ask for when seeing a movie like this.
Banning’s one-liners all clicked. Every bullet, stabbing, explosion, and chase was well-staged and well-shot. But what about the human story? I’ve always been a strong believer that an action film is only as good as its heart. Do you connect with the characters? Do you root for them? Do you worry about what is, or might happen to them? And I’m happy to say “Yes.” Banning’s friendship with President Asher, who he’s been protecting for several years now, is convincing. His personal plot, having to do with his wife back at home, raised the stakes nicely. His need to get himself, and the President, back home in one piece was easy to feel. Their bromance helps ground the story.
If I have to point at negatives, the kind that can’t be overlooked by checking your brain at the door, I’ve got two. One is Angela Bassett, who seems to have been spending too much time on the set of Ryan Murphy’s campy AMERICAN HORROR STORY series. The actress seems incapable of dialing back her performance, and the results are that she’s way over the top and not particularly convincing. The other is President Benjamin Asher. It’s not Eckhart’s fault, either. It’s the script. He’s so square-jawed, so wholesome, and so nice- without a hint of cynicism in anything he says or does. Perhaps I’ve just been spending too much time dialed into the current Presidential election campaign, but I just can’t buy such a goody two-shoes as the President of the United States.
Outside of that, the solid cast of ensemble players does its job. Morgan Freeman, as Vice President Trumball, isn’t given a whole lot to do but the actor sinks his teeth into the few moments he is given. Melissa Leo and Jackie Earle Haley are in there, too, and given even less to do- which makes the inclusion of both actors kind of a head-scratcher. Charlotte Riley is a standout, though, in her role as MI6 operate Jacqueline Marshall. And the film’s villains are played with respectable vigor by Alon Aboutboul and Waleed Zuaiter.
The film also earns its hard R-rating, thanks to some truly brutal violence and a gleefully foul mouth. I mentioned before that Banning may be a sadist, and you’ll see why as he merrily dispenses of some bad guys in ways that would make Liam Neeson’s Bryan Mills from TAKEN proud.
I hada lot of fun watching LONDON HAS FALLEN. The good guys were good guys, the bad guys were bad guys. The action was hard-hitting. The bromance was cool. The one-liners were great. Mike Banning is the type of character that, if I’d seen this when I was 12, I’d leave the theater imitating as I whipped around the corners of the movie theater using my fingers as pistols.