If you watched my IGN video about “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny” last week, you saw me lament that I was complaining that a sequel wasn’t as good as the original. I am happy today to tell you today that a completely different sequel in a completely different franchise is superior to its antecedent. Yes, “London has Fallen” surpasses the utter foolishness of “Olympus has Fallen” and, weirdly, makes me pine for another entry in the franchise.
“London has Fallen,” don’t misunderstand me, isn’t a particularly smart movie. It isn’t particularly well acted. It doesn’t have any great insights to share. What the movie does do, is blow things up, and that it does in ways that are utterly spectacular (but perhaps a little too CG).
The first film in the franchise, “Olympus,” which came out three years ago, features a great cast and an interesting director in Antoine Fuqua. What should be a solid, straight action, film, however tends to be over the top, offering some laughable moments that are meant to be serious and heart-wrenching.
Some of that cast, including Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Angela Bassett, and Morgan Freeman are back for this new London-set adventure which is directed this time by Babak Najafi. They make some great additions here, too, including Colin Salmon and Jackie Earle Haley (even if neither, just as with Melissa Leo and Robert Forster, are given enough to do). Najafi has also wisely removed the over-the-top serious/patriotic moments from this one and, seemingly, replaced them with more things blowing up.
There is, however, a joy in all the destruction. At least, there’s a joy for the audience watching it. “London has Fallen” revels in its ability to destroy everything it can, playing out like the most destructive FPS titles ever.
The movie, at least in terms of this destruction, has a brilliant first half. When world leaders all find themselves in London to mourn the untimely passing of the British PM, the film’s band of terrorists, led from a distance by Aamir Barkawi (Alon Aboutboul), puts their plot to kill all of those leaders into motion. And so, it plays out all over London, we see Presidents and Prime Ministers and their security people die. The scale of the plot is immense and it is carried out in meticulous fashion. Everyone, except Eckhart’s President Asher falls prey to Barkawi’s plot. Asher is saved because he’s protected by Butler’s Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (and a whole bunch of nameless, soon to be dead, other agents).
While the scope of Barkawi’s plot is impressive, it is Najafi’s putting it on screen that truly ought to be commended. This London attack is massive, goes on for an extended period in the movie, and is sure to increase the adrenaline level of everyone watching it in the theater. It is an assault on the audience’s eyes and ears and brain. The scope is absurd, Barkawi’s plan is ludicrous, and Najafi making it happen is fantastic. It is an epic takeover of the city and utterly audacious filmmaking.
It is also relatively early in the film and there is absolutely nothing that takes place afterwards that comes remotely close to matching it.
A significant portion of the film is Banning trying to get Asher to safety in the midst of the besieged city. It is, save for the final assault on Kamran Barkawi’s lair (Aamir’s son who is in the city to help run the terrorist operations), a series of small skirmishes featuring lots of death.
The assault, when it begins, offers a (sure to be fake) single shot take of Banning and an elite British squad. Despite the fact that camera trickery is almost certainly involved in it, it is another great moment for the movie. It is as close as Najafi comes to recreating the bravado of the first London attack. The moment isn’t as good and the climax rather anticlimactic after the wonder of the previous attack, but it still offers a satisfying ending.
Everyone in the movie plays their part to the hilt, and it’s something the film itself acknowledges. When Morgan Freeman makes his first appearance, there’s a halo behind him as the triumphant music swells. Rather than the serious tone of Fuqua’s film which led to some laughs, here such a moment is played for the laughs up front. It is in on the joke rather than being the joke.
The argument against “London has Fallen” is that it’s “generic” action, but I would counter that by saying that the action is anything but generic, it goes all out with a zeal that too many generic action films do not offer. It is admirable and makes the film more enjoyable than not.
Photo credit: Gramercy Pictures