First of all, Gerard Butler’s Mike Banning is a terrible Secret Service agent. Could you imagine a world in which the First Lady is killed and the President of the United States had been captured… twice? Okay, technically Banning was working for the Treasury Department when the events of the 2013 film Olympus Has Fallen took place, but whatever – the fictional American people of this series deserve a better fictional Secret Service. I hope whomever runs to succeed President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) realizes that he or she will probably be taken hostage at some point.
London Has Fallen is not a “fun” movie, even though it certainly thinks it’s fun. For the life of me, I have no idea how anyone thinks watching almost every notable landmark in London explode and watching hundreds of innocent people shot constitutes as “fun.” This is stuff that has actually happened… in London. I was in the mood for a good action movie, but instead it just all felt so unsettling.
Also unsettling: How unbelievably racist this movie is. Yes, there is radicalized religious terrorism in the world. I live in New York City. I see the defense mechanisms against such actions every day of my life. But when Mike Banning grabs a man of Middle Eastern descent by the neck and lectures him about what “you guys” get wrong about Americans, it all feels very ugly.
It also feels ugly when Banning tells a villain to go back to a country name that contains a few expletives, followed by “hstan” – oh, and while he’s doing this, he’s mercilessly stabbing the villain’s already subdued brother in the chest until he’s dead. Asher asks, “Was that necessary?” Banning replies, “No.” This would also sum up London Has Fallen in its entirety.
London Has Fallen draws a line and that line is between “us” and “them.” Add to this that the director is the Iranian-born Babak Najafi, which I point out to only muddy the waters even more about what this movie is trying to say. Maybe these are his feelings? Maybe he thought this is what Americans will like? Maybe this is a sly but poorly done condemnation of these attitudes? I don’t know. I don’t understand any of the reasoning behind this.
The film starts with a botched American drone strike against wanted terrorist Aamir Barkawi (Alon Moni Aboutboul), which winds up missing him, but killing his family. It was at this point that I hoped that London Has Fallen might venture into the complicated territory of the War on Terror, drone strikes and its effects on society. At least, the movie sets up this possibility. (Later, when this is explained to Banning, his basic reaction is, “I don’t care” and goes on a terrorist murder spree.)
After the death of the British Prime Minister, all the world’s Western leaders gather for a state funeral. President Asher is in London for only a few minutes before pretty much everything starts blowing up and almost every other world leader is killed. A drone killed Barkawi’s family, so to retaliate he’s going to murder every world leader. Again, the tone of these scenes is way off, because it all just seems so unnecessarily real and graphic. Banning then leads the President through the streets of London trying to keep him alive.
One of the strangest things about London Has Fallen is that while Banning and Asher are hiding from terrorists, back home a war room is assembled that includes characters played by Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo, Robert Forster, and Jackie Earle Haley sitting around a table with not much to do. I think Melissa Leo has just two or three lines. Let me repeat that: London Has Fallen hired four Oscar nominees and gave them all nothing to do. Great.
My press screening of London Has Fallen started right when early Super Tuesday returns started to trickle in. We live in a world where the leading candidate for the Republican nomination has talked about banning Muslims from entering the United States. This is also a candidate who made references to General Pershing shooting Muslims with bullets dipped in pigs’ blood – a story that isn’t even true – in order to win votes from people who like hearing such things. I suspect the people who like hearing stuff like this will also like London Has Fallen. This is a movie that plays in perfectly with that sensibility.
Remember when I mentioned how the story begins with a complicated story about a drone strike gone awry? (Here’s a spoiler alert if you care about these things) London Has Fallen also ends with a dramatic drone strike, one that exists to get a cheer from the audience, showing bodies flying everywhere in dramatic fashion. It’s the perfect movie for Trump’s America.
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.