“Prepare for Bloody Hell!” (Because that’s how the British swear, you see.)
Directed by Babak Najafi
Starring Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman and Alon Moni Aboutboul
After well-meaning, but entirely inept Western intelligence agencies drone-strike a wedding based on a single, uncoded text message and somehow spectacularly fail to kill any of their actual targets – arms dealer Aarmir Bakawi (Aboutboul) and his sons – Bakawi launches a spectacularly audacious plan for revenge which appears to begin with either infiltrating or radicalising the Coldstream Guards (should have pushed that Prevent training, Lieutenant General Sir James Bucknall, KCB, CBE) and coordinating a series of dazzlingly precise bombings and shootings during the State funeral of the surreptitiously assassinated British Prime Minister. Fortunately, US President Benjamin Asher (Eckhart) has nails hard one-man-army and not-at-all-a-Scot, Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (Butler) at his side.
While the Vice President (Freeman) struggles to find the parties responsible and the British authorities led by Superintendent Hazard (Colin Salmon, and yes that is his name) wave their hands in the air and make wibbling noises, Banning gets Asher to an MI6 safehouse run by old contact Jax Marshall (Charlotte Riley). Rousted out by their enemies, Asher is captured. Banning joins forces with a combined Delta Force and SAS team to raid the terrorist HQ, while Jax somewhat anticlimactically tracks down the traitor who made the whole thing possible.
Then Banning goes home to his wife and newborn daughter while the Americans drone strike Bakawi, which I’m sure has no risk of failure or comeback this time.
What’s wrong with it?
Who the fuck orders a drone strike based on an uncoded text message from a non-agency asset?
Mike Banning is a dick. Not a complete dick, perhaps, but certainly a dick. He murders prisoners to make a point and, seriously, that’s not okay.
Regardless of whether you consider the Bakawi’s and their allies to represent an ethnic group, the film still panders madly to stereotypes. Superintendent Hazard brackets all of his lines with a silent please and thank you, and the terrorists apparently plan perfectly to take out the Italian PM while he’s taking his missus on a romantic tour of Westminster Abbey (which, yes, means that they get to blow up Westminster Abbey,) and the French PM while he’s chilling on the river to diss the British by being fashionably late.
Bakawi orders the death of someone’s family minutes before the first drone strike, then gets all pissy about his family getting killed. I get that people take things personally, but especially in fiction I always feel that it’s kind of whiny to moan about loved ones dying in wars that you basically started.
In a situation of maximum security, the terrorists manage to infiltrate the police protecting the event, and the Queen’s Guards, suggesting a level of staggering incompetence in the security coordinators. Even if MI5’s head of Counter-Intelligence is dirty, the police are really twitchy about who turns up on the street with a Metvest and a submachine gun, let alone works bomb detection on a major diplomatic event. As for who gets to parade as part of the Queen’s Guard…
I have little enough regard for the UK security services, but the fact that the Vice-President, White House staff and US Cabinet are apparently better placed to handle a London-based crisis than the Met is a bit of a burn. And what do the Italians, Canadians, French, Germans and Japanese have to say about this, since their heads of government are all dead?
What the fuck did PM James Wilson do to get a State Funeral? Bloody Thatcher only got a ceremonial funeral, and the government of the day all wanted to ride in her train in the vanguard of the armies of the Conservative Ragnarok. The Queen Mum didn’t get a state funeral and the nation liked her better than most monarchs. Of course, the problem is that a ceremonial funeral is not a ‘must attend’ event, but the only way to actually create a state funeral would have been to assassinate the Queen.
How does anyone coordinate bringing exploding trucks in from two ends of a any bridge in London? That’s not how London traffic works. And don’t get me started on the car chases.
What’s right with it?
There’s some amazing coding in the opening scene, which is set at the wedding of Bakawi’s daughter. It’s a full-on, traditional Sikh wedding, but Bakawi and his sons stand out like sore thumbs because they’re wearing western-style formal suits to indicate that they are not defined by faith or ethnicity, but by their commitment to profit and Mafia-style vengeance.
The film has some awareness that, although not justified, terrorist attacks can be precipitated by high-handed ‘police actions’. I actually don’t know how much of this is the film putting some thought into the political verite of the situation and how much is supposed to be terrorist blame-gaming that we’re supposed to dismiss because USA! USA! USA! This position is also weakened a little when a throwaway line suggests that the western agencies had no idea there were civilians in the strike zone of the first attack, attempting to make them less evil by being incompetent instead.
For the most part, the action is pretty interchangeable with any other movie of the era, but there are a few sections of the final assault which show more thought, with Banning switching rapidly between an assault rifle and his pistol during his close quarter attack on the terrorist HQ.
How bad is it really?
I legitimately don’t know to what extent London Has Fallen is supposed to blur the lines between ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ by portraying the west as careless interlopers and the Bakawis as a wronged family, and how much is me reading things into it. I’m hardly a nationalist, but I admit that the American triumphalism is especially hard to swallow in the capital of my homeland, and I feel there was a missed opportunity to have Banning work with Jax or some other British opposite number to protect both the President and the Deputy PM while the two intelligence contingents strugled to get along around the interference of the mole.
I think that it probably does try to be more thoughtful than the average action blockbuster, but it only partly succeeds, and mostly in subtler ways, while the main text is yelling ‘America, fuck yeah!’ I… actually think that might be smarter than being didactic about it, but in that case I do worry that so few lessons seem to have been learned by the end. They say they’ve confirmed no civilians for the second drone strike, but there are some casual passersby in the street having a suddenly very bad day.
Best bit (if such there is)?
It’s ever so Call of Duty, but the assault on the terrorist HQ is quite nicely done, with the attackers moving up in a fairly convincing manner, clearing side-streets and flanking houses as they go, with a lot of the enemy only visible as muzzle flashes in the dark.
What’s up with…?
- Thanks to NCIS I actually know what’s up with the three helicopters. Essentially, Marine-1 is always flanked by two other helicopters with no markings to distinguish one from the other. It’s basically a shell game to make the President harder to shoot down.
- The uselessness of the Met? Don’t they even have tech support?
Production values – For the most part it’s reasonably well done. Some of the cuts are a little fierce, and the final explosion is oddly unconvincing, even compared to the many things that have already exploded in this film. 8
Dialogue and performances – The script is almost entirely functional, and delivered with all the zest of Arnold in his Commando days. It’s not that anyone is bad. It’s actually a really good cast, there’s just very little they can do to resuscitate the failing dialogue. 13
Plot and execution – Like later seasons of Bones, London Has Fallen suffers from the simple impossibility of accepting the plot unless the villains are some sort of goddamn wizards. I mean, it helps that no-one aside from Banning even attempts to use any kind of codes, but still… 16
Randomness – So… this started with the image of the Queen’s Guards opening up on visiting dignitaries, didn’t it? 10
Waste of potential – Not least because it does seem to be straining to be smarter, I do feel that there was a lot more that could have been done with this one. 11