Parsing the Politics of ‘London Has Fallen’ on Blu-ray

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Sometimes the external events can creep in and ruin a piece that was all set to go. That’s what has happened with my initial Blu-ray review for London Has Fallen, the absurd action sequel to 2013’s White House under siege movie Olympus Has Fallen. Following the tragic events of the weekend in Orlando, where a terrorist shooter claimed (at least) 49 lives and wounded so many others, it’s hard to look at piece of action spectacle escapism that deals with the realm of terrorism for what it is. Instead, I think back to a tweet sent out by former Speaker of the House, failed presidential candidate, and author of historical fiction, Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich is doing what many people do with movies – ascribe their own political leanings upon the work without actually examining what they’re talking about. Is London Has Fallen “a sobering warning about potential escalation of Islamic Supremacist efforts”? Nope. Not at all. London Has Fallen is a throwback to ‘80s action movies, featuring lots of bullets and blood splattered about with a tinge of ugly American jingoism tossed in for good measure. But even with its rather unpleasant “rah rah, America!” speech towards the end, Iranian-born director Babak Najafi tries to inject a conscious to London Has Fallen.

Najafi and a quartet of credited screenwriters (Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt, Christian Gudegast, and Chad St. John) dodge making their villains simply Muslim extremists – the main villain Aamir Barkawi (played by Alon Aboutboul) is of Middle Eastern descent, but the religious beliefs of himself or his followers if never given the least bit of attention. And on the ground of London, when the massive terrorist plan unfolds, there are just as many white members of the London Police turning on the film’s heroic Americans as there are non-white turncoats, and we’re later informed that they’ve been paid off. Barkawi isn’t even motivated by any form of ideological crusade. Barkawi isn’t even motivated by any form of ideological crusade. He’s motivated by revenge following the death of his daughter in a drone strike.

Of course, London Has Fallen is schlocky action movie and it doesn’t even carry its political aspects about the collateral damage of drone strikes with much intellectual consistency. After all, at the film’s conclusion (SPOILER ALERT), Barkawi is killed with a drone strike, one that is intended to be a moment of triumph.

But whether we’re talking about those on the right championing the film for its cautionary tale of Islamic extremism or those on the left decrying the film as a jingoistic piece of violent aggression, neither is factually correct with what’s presented on the screen. Perhaps London Has Fallen isn’t particularly adept at conveying political thought since all of its focus is on action that it can easily be misinterpreted from both sides of the political spectrum.

Now that the political aspects of London Has Fallen are out of the way, let’s talk about the movie for what it is: a piece of action schlock. Gerard Butler stars as Mike Banning, the Secret Service Agent who saved the life of President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) in the last film, leaving these two as best buds. When the Prime Minister of England suddenly dies, President Asher and his Secret Service detail including Mike Banning prepare to travel for the state funeral. Shortly after their arrival, a string of gunfire and bombs are set off, killing all of the leaders of western nations. Naturally, Banning and President Asher are able to evade each and every shot fired in their direction as they try to escape the nefarious forces littered throughout London.

What’s truly remarkable about London Has Fallen is that the film prioritizes visual coherency over the cinematic style of the day – the chaotic shaky cam. Babak Najafi stages some really impressive action scenes employing car chases, gun fights, knife fights, and hand-to-hand combat. Towards the end, there’s a string of long takes that are edited seamlessly together that is equally ambitious and impressive. It is a sad state of affairs for action cinema when a movie clearly presents its action, allowing the viewer to understand where characters are in relation to each other as bullets fly, and it feels almost revolutionary.

Don’t expect stellar acting in London Has Fallen. Aaron Eckhart does his best as the affable president, but it’s not like he does anything to stand out. Meanwhile, Morgan Freeman sleepwalks to a paycheck as the Vice President. Front and center in the movie is Gerard Butler and his woefully inept American accent. The Scottish actor is game for the role, but his accent slips in and out from scene to scene. For all his inconsistencies as an American, at least Butler gets one memorable line when he proclaims that he’s “thirsty as fuck.”

London Has Fallen isn’t politically sophisticated or politically reckless, it’s really just a B-movie with lots of bullets and butt-kicking. Compared to the history of the genre, such as questionable depictions in films like True Lies and The Delta Force, London Has Fallen seems like an almost progressive exercise in jingoistic action. You don’t have to be looking for an insightful political examination to enjoy the anti-hero of Butler’s Mike Banning, who gleefully employs unnecessary brutality while openly admitting how unnecessary his ultraviolence is. London Has Fallen is a movie that alternated between pure idiocy and self-awareness, not always pulling off what it aims for. But when it comes to the most basic elements of an action movie – the action – it excels because you can actually see what is going on in a given scene. Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, London Has Fallen can teach us all one incredibly valuable lesson – never listen to Newt Gingrich for anything related to the movies.

London Has Fallen
  • Overall Score
3

Summary

Neither politically sophisticated nor politically reckless, London Has Fallen is an entertaining enough B-movie that features some of the most visually coherent action of recent memory.

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