Friday 11 March 2016

London Has Fallen

City Of Lon-Down

London Has Fallen
2016 UK/USA/Bulgaria
Directed by Babak Najafi
UK cinema release print.

Ha. Well here we go again... Gerard Butler’s stab-happy character Mike Banning is back in the line of fire, once more risking life and limb in the service of his president, reprised by Aaron Eckhart, in this fairly loud but never dull action thriller sequel to the previous film, Olympus Has Fallen (reviewed by me here). Now I quite liked the original movie and, of the two ‘Whitehouse under attack’ movies that came out that year, the other being White House Down (reviewed here), I thought that Olympus Has Fallen was the better of the two.

Now there were some warning signs that this sequel, London Has Fallen, might be in trouble as it seems to have seen off more than its fair share of directors in its long journey to the cinema, including the director of the original movie. That being said, I can’t say I felt in any way drastically let down by it and I was pretty excited to see my home town taking the brunt of the terrorist carnage this time around. London has been getting picked on for wide scale destruction a few times in the last five years or so by Hollywood movies... after a long drought which means my best memories of London under attack are still the British monster movie Gorgo, which I last saw when I was maybe eight years old. It’s just somewhat refreshing, after a long wilderness of not getting walloped, when you see famous places like London Bridge and Westminster Cathedral decimated (almost quite literally, in the actual sense of the word... no total destruction here) by the agents of evil and I have to confess that, despite reports that the movie is a bit shaky, I had a pretty good time with this one. It made absolutely no demands on my brain and, after a hard day at work, I kinda appreciated that.

Najafi’s direction of the movie is pretty assured in that the way the action sequences are shot and edited continue the trend in this franchise of being absolutely straightforward and easy to decode. If you like action films but find yourself at odds with the editing on some of these modern blockbusters where they’re often, I suspect, just trying to edit themselves out of not having enough shot coverage, then you have nothing to be concerned about on that count here... the choreography of the stunts and action isn’t in any way confusing.

The Mike Banning character does, however, retain that uncompromising, almost gleeful, ruthlessness in his violence but... well I guess that’s just something that gives the character a unique edge. You may not necessarily agree with the wild abandon into which he throws himself into killing off his enemies but that at least has a certain amount of continuity with Butler’s role in the first one so I don’t think you can complain too vocally about that. I’m guessing the Americans will see him as a passionate patriot but personally, for me, he’s very much an anti-hero in his pursuit of violent solutions and, whether you hide it in jingoistic flag waving and go with it or not, the character is not somebody I would necessarily want to hang out with in a pub. As a fictional character though... yeah, I’m not going to get too distracted by that... I’m happy to watch violent movies and just assume that anybody watching who is not already of that mindset themselves is not going to be in any way influenced by this. Butler does what he does and he does it well. The same for Eckhart... he’s a harder character, in some ways, than he was in the first film but he has a certain amount of honour to him and your sympathies tend to align with him, as best as they can with such broadly drawn characters.

The acting is top notch and the action is credible. There’s one action sequence toward the end of the movie where Banning and a group of British military are moving in on a terrorist complex which very much uses the vocabulary, to some extent, of those first and third person shooter styles of video games, almost dropping you right into the action with the characters and using the camera to stay with one or two of them and scope out all the angles of attack, as the good guys and bad guys clash. It's very effectively done here and, in some ways, it reminded me of the opening of Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, although it obviously doesn’t have the same shock effect of that movie... nor is it supposed too. The action sequences are very well done and that’s half the battle in this kind of tale.

Actually, there’s a lot of stuff I liked here...

For instance the fact that it’s a sequel but not necessarily hitting the same kind of marks as the first movie. Olympus Has Fallen was very much a ‘stealth’ action movie set, more or less, inside one location and it had the feel of, say, the first Die Hard movie in that respect. Here, the canvass has opened out and after a trap is set using the death of the British Prime minister, we have a movie which takes place all around our fair capital and involves not just hand to hand combat but also car chases and helicopter action. This movie is not just trying to be an imitation of the first one and I really appreciate this. That being said, fans of Butler’s stab happy, head busting in the first one (where it made more sense for that stuff to be happening) is referenced in at least one action scene here. Oh yes, the happy head stabber that is Mike Banning returns to blade up more skulls in his thirst for cranial destruction. Not nearly as much as the first movie but it’s there for the fans. What fans, I don’t know? Fans of being stabbed in the head, I guess.

Anyway, I digress. Another great thing about this movie is that the writers are not afraid to kill off regular characters from the first movie. Once again, actors and actresses such as Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster and Rhada Mitchell are back and, all I’ll say is that at least one of them doesn’t survive the picture.You’ll probably guess who before things happen, though. One thing I will say is that, just like the first movie, Rhada Mitchell is almost criminally underused as Mike Banning’s understanding wife. She’s such a great actress and I think she would have been equally good at playing Gerard Butler’s role in some ways and I just hope that her role is expanded a little more if there’s a third film in the franchise (and never mind Pitch Black or the Silent Hill movies... if you want to see Rahda Mitchell being absolutely amazing, check out a little movie called High Art sometime).

A stand out moment for me, in the film, was when a car with heavy, bullet proof glass kept on going and going until, after the pummeling it’s taken, some of the bullets finally start to go through the glass and the driver is killed. This is great. You hardly ever see bullet proof glass failing in the movies. They’re usually impervious to the passage of time and wear but here... yeah, I quite liked that touch which I can only presume is the reality of the situation. Keep hitting a re-enforced windshield with a gazillion bullets and, eventually, some of them will get through. So well done whoever came up with that one.

And that’s about all I’ve got to say about London Has Fallen. Good all round action which tends to simplify the political and moral issues of its plot but which kinda has its heart in the right place... albeit by showing a somewhat vengeful side of America. Trevor Morris’ score is solid and appropriate, once again and the good news is that at least this time around it’s been issued on CD... the first score is only available on download so, as I said in my review of the last one, no CD... no purchase. My only real grumble is that the talented British medical profession were only able to determine that the Prime Minister was killed rather than died naturally on the same day they were burying him... that makes no sense and is a detail kinda glossed over to serve the story (or blow a hole in it). Other than that though.... London Has Fallen is a thrilling time at the movies. It’s not one I’d rush out to see again but it is a competent and satisfying time at the cinema... so if you like that kind of thing, maybe go see it.

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