Red, White and Blue House Down
The sequel to Olympus Has Fallen attempts to deliver retro 80s-style one-man-army violence in a modern world of shifting geo-political landscapes.It’s a shame, really, that movies these days have to try so hard to fit the current political environment; that it’s harder to paint things in black and white; to craft an environment in which your hero can just crack skulls justifiably. Olympus’s simple, streamlined assault on the White House is traded here for a far more messy set-up, which sees shady ethnically and culturally ambiguous arms dealing terrorists rather upset by one of the West’s more careless drone strikes. The ensuing revenge plot is something Dumas would have been proud of, with almost all of London’s landmarks levelled, half a dozen visiting dignitaries dead, and the US President himself being hounded through London's streets by armed aggressors. The only person who can stop them? On-the-cusp-of-retiring-because-he’s-soon-to-be-a-father Secret Service Super-Agent Mike Banning.There was something brutally effective about 2013’s relatively low budget Olympus Has Fallen, which vastly outperformed its significantly bigger-budgeted but PG-13-hindered sibling, White House Down. Director Antoine Fuqua and star Gerard Butler delivered on the kind of 80s/90s action movie thrills that even The Expendables series have struggled to capture, and the result – whilst far from re-writing the rule book – was something of a sleeper gem. A sequel was not only to be expected, it was to be welcomed. Almost corny in its title, London Has Fallen seemed like a comparatively natural progression for the series, thematically, and the basic premise – an assassination plot involving visiting dignitaries on UK soil – is actually sound. All it needed was bad guys, Gerard Butler, plenty of ammo and some well-staged action set-pieces.
London Has Fallen actually falls down in its protracted set-up (it’s curious, given the popularity of drones in movies at the moment, how ill-conceived the usage of drones is here) and struggles to get back up amidst its sea of indiscernibly bland villains and illogical set-pieces (How many times do you want to try and fool us into believing that it’s possible to have a high speed pursuit in Central London!). The absence of original director Antoine Fuqua (busy working on his all-star Magnificent Seven remake) is noticeable, with little known Swedish director Babak Najafi making an inauspicious US debut here. It’s largely forgettable, oftentimes unintentionally funny, and disappointing even for those who wanted nothing more than more of the same thing that the first film promised.
Indeed it feels, at times, as if it falls into the Taken 2 trap, by over-complicating things in terms of plotting and set-up, and then failing to deliver where it counts – in the action department. Indeed, but for a few scant touches here and there (for once, they actually brake when in an SUV being chased by armed bikers), it takes a good long while before London Has Fallen comes even close to Olympus Has Fallen territory in terms of running-and-gunning action.
Olympus Has Fallen was one of the best Die Hard clones since Seagal’s Under Siege. London Has Fallen won’t leave you wanting for another sequel.
Najafi stages much of his early mayhem in a messy, haphazard fashion (hampered by some really poor VFX – nothing which could justify the film’s $105 Million budget) and doesn’t know how to handle his generic London streets, with a safehouse ambush proving the only mild diversion on the way to a long-in-the-waiting finale that sees Banning finally giving us his A-(ish)-game. Even then, however, we’re left to wonder where all the decent villains are, and why we’ve been left with a bunch of mid-range terrorists with a genuinely tragic backstory that, in a more politically sound drama, would have left them the heroes (c.f. Homeland).
The cast of familiar faces that return for the sequel are almost universally wasted – Freeman looks like Oliver Reed in Gladiator (i.e. like he’s been brought back from the dead), whilst the likes of Jackie Earle Haley, Melissa Leo and Robert Forster fight over who gets to be the one to say more than one sentence. Angela Bassett deserves better than this, whilst Radha Mitchell and Aaron Eckhart get a little bit too much screentime, detracting away from what you really want – Butler cracking heads open and shooting people in the face.
It’s something he did so well in the first film, but here it’s far less efficient, and even sometimes a little unpleasantly violent (rather than skillful, his repeated stabbings are less clinical and more serial killer-ish this time around). He’s still the saving grace for the film; he will still raise a smile when he takes out a clutch of villains with a handgun and a bunch of headshots, but he does suffer – along with the rest of the movie – from a lack of decent opponents, and of decently-staged combat. It's not much to ask for in a movie, these days, but even the simplicity of Olympus Has Fallen appears beyond the capabilities of this sequel.
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