You know an action film is in trouble when, right from the start, you’re rooting for the terrorists.
But hold on. Before we get into everything wrong with this mega mess of a movie, we should point out that lead actor Gerard Butler has no one to blame but himself for the drubbing we feel obliged to dish out. This unflushable turd of a film, the follow-up to 2013’s so-so guilty pleasure Olympus Has Fallen, was squeezed out by his own production company, so the buck and the shame is all his.
So let’s start with Butler then. He plays Mike Banning, a presidential bodyguard who’s apparently made of pastrami (beefy yet hammy at the same time). He talks out the side of his mouth like an angry New York cabby and has a line in lame and often illogical quips which would make Arnold Schwarzenegger baulk.
We meet Banning jogging backwards through a park in Washington DC (though clearly this is shot in Hyde Park). He’s merely obnoxious at this point and yet to reveal himself as the sadistic racist he becomes later on when the chips are down. Banning is a variation on Die Hard’s John McClane, though without any of the subtlety, charm or chutzpah. He is extremely dislikeable even before he starts casually torturing unarmed men by stabbing them anywhere and everywhere in a psychopathic frenzy.
Butler plays Mike Banning, a presidential bodyguard who’s apparently made of pastrami (beefy yet hammy at the same time).
The film doesn’t acknowledge the fact that Banning is a mad dog; he’s not presented as a necessary evil who exists for the West’s protection. He’s actually a doting family man who simply enjoys a bit of the wet stuff when he gets the chance to indulge in it, a right-winger with a hard-on for hurting people who represents the viewpoint that "terrorist assholes from Fuckheadistan" are beyond the Geneva Convention and about as human as dog meat.
The filmmakers (erm, Butler) might try to argue that Banning is just a fantasy figure for these troubled times we live in; but it’s exactly the latter part of that idea that gives us the shivers. London Has Fallen is set in a world where the Paris attacks have happened and Isis do behead innocent people on social media. And so rather than being a silly, cathartic action cartoon, the film posits Banning’s truly repellent code of behaviour as a reasonable approach to dealing with global terror. It’s gross and regularly borders on incitement to racial hatred.
Oh, and excuse us for not bothering with the plot until now; but we’re only following the lead of the writers, who barely bothered at all (and we do seriously wonder whether Donald Trump wasn’t part of the writing team). Here we go then: a drone strike takes out the family of a Middle Eastern arms dealer, who then takes revenge by knocking off the Prime Minister of 'Grade Bridden' so he can lure all the world leaders to London for a state funeral so he can then blow them all to smithereens, even though he’s really only interested in Aaron Eckhart’s feckless and frankly idiotic President Asher.
The way this is set-up in the first 20 minutes aspires to be like something in The Godfather though it’s much closer to Team America. We see several heads of state gathering in London: the buck-toothed German chancellor at the gates of Buckingham Palace; the louche French leader quaffing Champagne on his yacht in the Thames so he can be fashionably late (for a funeral); the horny Italian premier perched atop Westminster Abbey fondling his perky young mistress. They are all then obliterated in a sequence that a shocked TV newsman describes, with beautiful bathos, as "an attack that has decimated most of the known landmarks in the British capital."
These money shots of the capital being blown apart are all over the posters and are the key selling point of the movie. The problem is that we’ve seen all this before (quite a lot actually, from Bond to GI Joe) and done with much better CGI too.
None of it is very believable and the liberties taken with the London locations don’t help much either. The film starts with fairly feasible geography as the Americans fly by chopper from Stansted to Somerset House, then take an armoured car down Fleet Street to St Paul's. So it looks like we might be in for some realism in this department at least. But then, as the bullets start flying, they tear up the map and we enter a ludicrous parallel London that features a Dubai-style telecoms tower and tall, thin blocks of flats (so a chopper can dodge missiles more easily) which look like they’d be much more at home in Hong Kong.
Later on, Moorgate tube station is re-labelled Charing Cross for no good reason and then, the final insult, a dying terrorist has the location of the kidnapped President stabbed out of him thusly: "Where is he?" "Broadwick and Lexington, gah." Excuse us, where?
This film is a horrifying carnival of vulgarity from start to finish.
Unless we aren’t being clear: this film is a horrifying carnival of vulgarity from start to finish though it is probably worth seeing simply to witness the constant new lows it manages to sink to. Here are a few choice exchanges if you are still unsure:
The President jumps out of a cupboard and shoots a terrorist in the head, saving Banning in the process. Banning: "I was wondering when you were gonna come out of the closet." (Meaning what?)
Terrorist to Banning: "Fuck You" Banning to terrorist: "Fuck Me?" Banning drives terrorist into a wall and seemingly decapitates him. Banning to terrorist’s head: “Fuck you.” (Dialogue for the ages.)
President goes green watching a terrorist choke to death. President: "I've never seen a man suffocate before." Banning: "I didn't have a knife." (Pure nonsense.)
But perhaps the single weirdest bit in this long, boring and badly made film comes during a scene which seems to have been added in the hope of finding a soft drink company willing to do a bit of product placement. Butler brings in two glasses of water saying: "I'm thirsty as fuck!" before downing the lip-smacking, thirst-quenching liquid that clearly isn’t Pepsi or Coke or even Irn-Bru.
Who is this film for? The penultimate lines give that secret away as a news report reveals the name of the one man who just might be able to rebuild the smoking ruins of the pulverised capital: Prime Minister Clarkson. So at least, Jeremy will be happy.
London has Fallen is unfunny, exploitative torture/terror porn and a serious contender for worst film of all time.