There’s an amusing scene in London Has Fallen that takes place after London has indeed fallen. Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) captures one of the terrorists who are trying to kill President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart). After torturing him for some intel and getting the guy’s boss on the phone, Banning rams his knife home so the guy on the other end of the line can hear his buddy gurgle his last. “Was that really necessary?” the president asks. “No” comes the snappy reply.
Now, the laugh line here is “No,” and the audience at my screening obliged. But I found myself giggling at the question rather than the response. Because the knifing was so obviously unnecessary that it was in fact necessary. The president’s question implies he doesn’t seem to understand the cinematic universe he inhabits. But we do. It’s one in which bad guys die, preferably horribly, because they are bad. Full stop.
Asher gets with the program, though. He is informed by the mastermind of the day’s horrifying events that he is being made to suffer because he ordered a drone strike that killed an arms dealer’s daughter. In the movies this would normally be a learning moment of sorts—“See, blowback is real and we should not drone strike people because that makes us just as bad as them,” would be the general lesson—but not in London Has Fallen. Asher instead replies, more or less, “Screw your family, if you didn’t want them to die you wouldn’t have armed terrorists around the world.”
Indeed, the vice president (Morgan Freeman) later gives a rousing speech about the need for international engagement—American international hegemony, really—when some suggest that America should heed the word of terrorists and retreat from the global stage. “The worst option is to do nothing,” he says during a televised address toward the end of the film. “We owe it to our children to engage in the world.”
And if that engagement comes via bombs and bullets rather than emissaries and treaties? Well, better than doing nothing. We’ll keep ramming our knives into the gullets of terrorists even as slackjawed observers ask, “Was that really necessary?”
Olympus Has Fallen took a relatively simple conceit—Die Hard, but in the White House—and ran with it. Director Antoine Fuqua’s film posited an absurd-but-not-wholly-implausible assault on the White House by an elite team of North Korean commandos and set the story in a single structure.
London Has Fallen, meanwhile, is more like The Warriors-meets-Air Force One. Set in the whole city of London rather than a single building in downtown Washington, D.C., London Has Fallen posits a terrorist attack that manages to decapitate the G8, the leaders of which have gathered in England to mourn the passing of the British prime minister. Director Babak Najafi puts together a couple of impressive sequences—including one several-minute take in an alley where Banning and a batch of British soldiers are mounting an assault on the terrorist stronghold—and creates a sense of dreadful calm on London’s empty streets. The high-pitched whine of motorbikes shadowing Banning and Asher as they flee for their lives call to mind Luther’s clinking of Coke bottles and screeching on Coney Island as the Warriors hide.
Still, it’s an undeniably silly film, one that posits a terrorist group could manage to take out multiple heads of state in multiple locations via several different means in a matter of moments. Perhaps my favorite part of the movie is the stereotypical way each national head’s assassination is treated: The all-business Japanese PM being taken out in a traffic jam; the lecherous Italian PM blown up while amorously cavorting about with his much-younger lover; the French PM liquidated after deciding he should be fashionably late.
I have a soft spot for Butler and Eckhart, so I found their presidential Mutt and Jeff routine entertaining; those who toss around the word “bro” as epithet will likely find it maddening. To each his own.