London Has Fallen: Too clichéd to make us care

LondonHasFallen   | Photo Credit: mail

Director: Babak Najafi

Writers: Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt, Christian Gudegast, Chad St. John

Starring: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Alon Aboutboul

Run time: 98 mins

Genre: Action thriller

Story: In London for the Prime Minister's funeral, Mike Banning discovers a plot to assassinate all the attending world leaders

When a film titled London Has Fallen begins with the dusty fields of Pakistan, you know where it’s heading. It’s going to be yet another American geopolitical fantasy where Uncle Sam saves the world, as it bulldozes all nuances of the topic of terrorism along its way. But to be fair, keeping its problematic politics aside, the film begins to tell its story well.

We see a wealthy Muslim arms dealer Aamir Barkawi (Alon Aboutboul) in his mansion somewhere in Punjab Province. He talks business with his sons even as they make plans for his daughter’s (their sister) wedding. In the next scene, we are inside the wedding, observing all its colourful festivities. We also catch someone making a suspicious phone call. Cut to the next shot, a G8 sanctioned drone sets its eyes on the venue: it becomes a small square plot on its display screen, a button pressed and a big boom heard. Barkwai may be a dangerous man, but you are made to feel for him, for his family and the innocents who have been wiped off the face of the earth. But as it turns out, the portion was merely a guilt-trip in advance for the makers of a movie where America, yet again, emerges as the hero.

London Has Fallen is a sequel to Olympus has Fallen (2013), in which North Korean terrorists had held US President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) hostage in the White House. But the series’ protagonist is not Asher, but Mike Banning, chief of his personal security. Now, I haven’t seen Olympus, but that film showed Banning falling from grace – he was demoted from the President’s detail after he failed to save the lives of Asher’s family – only to be reinstated at the end of the film after he pulls off an impossible rescue. That backstory explains the single-minded focus with which Banning works for Asher. But in isolation of the first film, London Has Fallen carries few traces of his troubled past.

Yet, it isn’t a total disaster because director Babak Najafi manages to pull us into his film in the first 30 odd minutes. It’s when the US president, along with other world leaders (strong allies of the United Kingdom), descend in London to attend the British Prime Minister’s funeral. Given the short notice that the event has been planned, it becomes one with extreme high-security. This stretch is taut as we are introduced to one leader after the other, knowing that something terrible is about to happen. And then terror strikes as though it is some evil alien ship taking over earth. Sure, it makes for some spectacular visuals such as the Westminster Abbey collapsing as the Italian President romances with his girlfriend on its terrace or London Bridge falling down while the French President relaxes on his boat on the river Thames. While the impact is superficially pleasurable, London Has Fallen treats terrorism the way big, dumb blockbusters treat apocalyptic tsunamis or other natural disasters.

So much more could have been extracted from Banning’s relationship with Asher. Banning is not just Asher’s personal security but also a confidante. Asher treats him as an equal, going for jogs together or putting up a sparring boxing match. But the film portrays Butler as an American superhero masquerading as an US agent, mouthing offensive lines such as “Go back to F**khead-istan or wherever it is you are from”, single-handedly saving his President from a terror attack planned for years. Butler isn’t bad, but he plays the character straight, as you expect him to. And an actor of Ackhart’s calibre seems severely underutilised and you just wish he had a better written character rather than a one-note helpless President. When both come out unscathed from a helicopter crash (leaving their third partner, um, a black character dead), Banning tells Asher that after everything else has failed, London by foot might well be there best option. I thought London by foot would be a great opportunity to take the film to an unexpected direction, giving us a tense, cinematic tour of a broken London. But no, turns out it was a short cut to get into a house. And from there to another one. London Has Fallen becomes too clichéd to make us care for its characters, an overdose of American self-righteous heroism, that the world already has had too much of.

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Printable version | Oct 20, 2021 12:20:30 PM |

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