In 2013, there were two movies about the White House being attacked by terrorists. This was a popular thing to imagine back in those days. One of them, the death-filled but bloodless, PG-13 “White House Down,” was quite fun as mindless escapism. The other, “Olympus Has Fallen,” was a hard R with gratuitous, cruel violence that sucked some of the fun out of it.
Well, that one turned a bigger profit, so that’s the one that gets a sequel — “London Has Fallen,” in which the same U.S. president and his favorite Secret Service agent are in England for a state funeral when all hell breaks loose. Though it’s by a different director (Iranian-born Babak Najafi), the vaguely distasteful emphasis on death and carnage is still in place, now accompanied by a vaguely distasteful disregard for anything that isn’t American. (You guessed it: hundreds of people die, including prime ministers and presidents, but don’t worry, the Yanks make it out OK.) It’s an especially tacky attitude for a movie set overseas. I mean, we’re guests here. Can we not show a little respect for our hosts? The ones whose landmarks and civilians are being destroyed?
Pres. Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) and agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), joined by Secret Service chief Lynne Jacobs (Angela Bassett) and some expendables, are among the dozens of world leaders gathered to mourn the British prime minister’s death when a massive, coordinated attack — one involving dozens of terrorists infiltrating numerous public agencies to carry out specific assassinations — decimates London. If Mike Banning hadn’t unilaterally changed the president’s schedule by 10 minutes, screwing up the U.K.’s security plans and ignoring the fact that there are 40 other world leaders with their own security details, he and Asher would be dead now. Good thing the rules don’t apply to America or Mike Banning!
The people who behaved respectfully when they came to London for the funeral, like the heads of Germany, Japan, and France, are killed without a second thought. That’s what they get. For a minute it looked like France’s guy would survive, and I thought: Oh, this will be fun! The French president will join the American president and his Secret Service buddy to save the day! That’ll be different from the way it played out in the first movie, where it was just Asher and Banning against — nope, never mind, they killed the French guy, too.
Anyway, the head terrorist in charge, Barkawi (Alon Aboutboul), is mad at the United States for a drone attack a couple years ago that missed him but wiped out family members at a wedding party. (It’s telling that the film’s returning screenwriters, Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt, went to the trouble of giving Barkawi a legitimate reason to be upset, only to have Asher and Banning ignore it. Oh, there might be some nuances here? SCREW YOU AND YOUR NUANCES, TOWELHEAD!) While Vice President Morgan Freeman, Gen. Robert Forster, Secretary of State Melissa Leo, and others watch helplessly via satellite from the situation room back in D.C., Asher and Banning scamper through London killing terrorists and trying to reach safety.
Despite the TV-quality CGI, the initial attack sequences are intense and breathless. Indeed, when the movie is just doing its bare-bones action thing, it’s fine. It’s the close-up details of Banning shooting and/or stabbing people (so much stabbing), and his cavalier attitude toward it, that’s disquieting. (After he slices a guy up just so his terrorist brother can hear him scream over a walkie-talkie, Pres. Asher says, “Was that really necessary?” Mike Banning’s gruff reply: “No.” U-S-A-! U-S-A!) That’s not to mention the fact that there’s also a lot of talking, and the dialogue is weak, and Gerard Butler’s repressed Scottish accent still sounds like an American speech impediment.
The problem with “Olympus,” which is magnified in “London,” is the lack of self-awareness: the filmmakers don’t seem to realize how obnoxious they’re being. I don’t mind a movie that crosses the line on purpose. It’s when the movie is blithely unaware that the line exists that it loses its flavor for me.
C (1 hr., 39 min.; )