London has Fallen - "the sequel to Olympus Has Fallen" as the poster is so eager to emphasise in case nobody would ever have made that connection - is a curious beast. The movie is an odd paradox in that it retains virtually all the (mostly) top tier cast from the original feature, yet has the distinct whiff of a DTV sequel (despite a theatrical release). This is none more apparent than in the frankly horrendous CGI effects that threaten to take the viewer out of the film just as they're settling in, and have no place in a production that has graced a 21st century cinema auditorium (I guess the $60m budget went towards paying all of the cast). By way of comparison visual effects wise, it's a little bit like London Has Fallen is the equivalent of Superman IV: The Quest For Peace and Olympus has Fallen is Superman: The Movie. On the subject of the former, to steal a bit of a review I read on Amazon, if this was the eighties, London Has Fallen would have been made by Cannon Pictures (and probably directed by Menehem Golan).
Two years after a US military drone strike on a notorious arms dealer, strange happenings are afoot. The British Prime Minister has died in mysterious circumstances, and all the major world leaders are called to attend a relatively impromptu state funeral. Hmm, I wonder what could go wrong? Back in the US (or wherever the movie was filmed) gruff Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (King Leonidas) is stuck in cliché purgatory. His lovely missus is pregnant, and although torn due to his "bro-mance" with the Prez (aka Two Face), Mike is on the verge of tending his resignation from the service. But lo and behold, before he gets a chance to finish the letter, Mike finds he must undertake "one last assignment" in London. Who writes these things (the wonderfully named Creighton Rothenberger actually)?
The central conceit of London Has Fallen is actually nearly the same as the original except replace North Koreans with Pakistani arms dealer archetypes, and there is another surprise deadly ambush that no-one saw coming in the same vein. Also lightly touched upon in the narrative are the moral/ethical implications of military drone strikes from the POV of the terrorists, but I suggest you watch Good Kill or Eye in the Sky if you want a film that deals with that in a more meaningful way. As with the original, the antagonist is rather lazily written, thus fails to make much of an impression on proceedings. The most notable absentee is the original director Antoine Fuqua. Relative newcomer Swedish/Iranian director Babak Najafi directs competently - his previous entry Easy Money II is actually well rated - but (purely from the perspective of this film alone) his eye for action lacks any kind of panache, and the set pieces - whilst commendable for being brutally no holds barred in the Taken mould - are staged in a decidedly haphazard manner. There's nothing particularly memorable, with the car chase probably the pick of the bunch. Fuqua himself is no Michael Mann or MacTiernan (circa late 80s) but he knows how to make a slick action picture - from his John Woo homage The Replacement Killers through to The Equalizer, with a detour of Shooter and, of course, Olympus.
Another issue with London Has Fallen is that it is full of the same God Bless America jingoistic nonsense that plagued its predecessor (unsurprising since it's the same writing duo). Cringeworthy is an understatement whether it's Morgan Freeman's - damn has that once fine actor been hanging around with De Niro, Cage and Bruce Willis a little too much? - VP declaring that "America will rise up" or Butler proclaiming that (despite the best attempts from terrorists) American's, to paraphrase his character, 'will still be here a thousands years from now!' Further compounding the problem is that Butler, whilst an actor of many qualities (i.e. manly physique, SHOUTING and killing people), simply cannot wrap his Caledonian tongue around even the most generic of US accents, and it's amusing to watch him verbally wrestle with the dialogue. However, it also means Butler is 100% unconvincing as a full blooded, patriotic American, and it's particularly jarring to listen to him spout the "America is great" style lines. One other sour aspect is the fact that Aaron Eckhart is lumbered with the most thankless of roles as President Asher alongside Butler's Banning. Although it's not his movie, there's something amiss seeing Eckhart as a (let's face it) practically useless Commander and Chief. Especially since the actor can more than hold his own in action orientated vehicles such as The Expatriate and Battle LA.
So, are there any redeeming qualities to this film at all I hear you ask? Well, yes there are a couple of things to ensure that London Is Fallen is not completely without merit. As mentioned previously, the action sequences (whilst not the most exciting or innovative) are a refreshingly brutal throwback to 80s style gratuitous violence that is becoming the exception rather than the rule in this modern era of 12A (or PG-13) rated action movies. Banning doesn't just take down the 'bad guys', he kills them with the kind of glee rarely seen since Arnie's John Matrix improvised with gardening tools in Commando. And contrary to many reviews, Gerard Butler is on very good form despite talking like someone with a wasp in his mouth. Whether it's getting off on killing or dropping F-Bombs at every opportunity, Butler is easily the best thing that the film has to offer. After killing a terrorist with relish whilst his brother listens over the radio, President Asher enquiries if whether it was really necessary to do that - Banning dryly retorts with "No." Or after Banning bashes a would be assassin in the throat with a plank - Asher: "I've never seen a man choke to death before." Banning: "I didn't have a knife." Whilst it's not on a par with classic Arnie or Bruce Willis wise-crackery, it's a refreshing counterpoint to the relatively humourless antics of Neeson's Bryan Mills from the Taken series.
The original Olympus Has Fallen is far from a classic - but it's "Die Hard in the White House" antics, aligned with a suitably macho turn from Butler, and slick direction from Fuqua, ensured for a hugely entertaining slice of cheesy mayhem. Unfortunately, London Has Fallen - with its abysmal CGI and largely pedestrian action set pieces - fails to even engage on that level. Thankfully, there is still enough charisma from a game Gerard Butler to prevent a total lost cause, and if you're partial to DTV actioners with a decent cast, then this sequel is worth at least one viewing.