Thursday, 17 March 2016

Film Review: London Has Fallen

London Has Fallen is the sequel to 2013's surprise action hit, Olympus Has Fallen. Once again returning to the fray is Gerard Butler as gruff Secret Service agent Mike Banning and Aaron Eckhart as President Benjamin Asher. 

In true sequel fashion, London Has Fallen offers more of the same - but this time, the stakes are higher! Rather than confining the action to a single building like the first movie, it's the entire city of London that is under threat of terrorism after the death of the British Prime Minister triggers a massive state funeral.

In attendance are dozens of world leaders (France, Japan, Italy, Canada and the United States amongst others), but as you can probably guess, they're all being lead into an elaborate trap designed to bring the Western world to its knees.

With the city wrapped in chaos, it's up to one man - this is where Gerard Butler comes in - to protect the President and ensure that those responsible for the carnage are brought to justice.

Olympus Has Fallen was an unexpected success when it arrived in 2013; it wasn't perfect, but fans were keen to label it the definitive Die Hard movie of our post 9/11 world. Unfortunately, those hoping for an equally exciting continuation will be left disappointed as London Has Fallen slumps into cinemas with an unfortunate crash.

The CGI in this movie is laughably bad at times, with explosions and destruction merely painted on top of digitally-rendered cityscapes and flocks of bystanders. It looks cheap, quick and nasty - and steers the series away from the more grounded, practical grittiness established in the first film. Simply put, the first film worked because the action was contained to corridors and hallways. With a larger canvas to draw on, the tooth-and-nail choreography from the original has been cashed in for a bigger, emptier sense of scale.

Not only that, but Banning himself has been upgraded from a tough but resilient ex-serviceman to a super solider with a sixth sense for dodging bullets and death. He cuts through wave after wave of dispensable goon almost like he's completing a particularly bloodthirsty level on Call of Duty. Bullets, missiles, searing hot columns of fire and smoke - they don't affect Banning any more as he ducks and dodges his way through anything and everything the enemy have to throw at him. Any ounce of plausibility has been washed away by the filmmakers' desire to up the ante at every turn.

This goes for the writing also. We're told at the start that the British Prime Minister's funeral would be the "most secure event in human history", but the film offers no explanation for how an elite terrorist cell is able to discreetly infiltrate every level of the British police force, from Scotland Yard to MI6 and even the Royal Guard at Buckingham Palace. It's ludicrously lazy writing that barely dips into how anything was orchestrated or organised by the villains, who are simply cookie-cutter Arabs with a deathwish. A brief prologue looks at why President Asher's actions have come full circle, but this critique of US foreign policy is quickly brushed aside for a conclusion that screams "Fuck you, we're America and we can bomb whoever we want!" It's a very black and white perspective of an issue that is anything but.

The editing isn't much better either; every stunt or explosion is chopped up into five or six separate cuts, most of which add nothing to the scene. It's comparable to the Taken sequels in how it tackles stuntwork; just camouflage it with multiple edits. One scene near the end aims to mimic True Detective or Daredevil by staging one really long tracking shot, but the edits are pretty obvious and the action itself is dark, incoherent and shrouded in murky VFX.

Butler's performance is passable; his gruff take-no-prisoners persona is fine tuned, whilst Eckhart gets more to do this time around. They make an entertaining double-act. Meanwhile, Morgan Freeman spends his entire runtime sitting in a situation room barking orders at a screen - let's be honest, he's really just here to cash a cheque.

The Verdict: 4/10

London Has Fallen is a disappointing sequel that fails to excel at almost anything. Butler is a competent action hero, but the braindead writing and dismal visual effects are hard to ignore. Plus, the jingoistic conclusion leaves a bitter taste in your mouth.

London Has Fallen is in cinemas across Australia from today.

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