I am of the opinion that the action genre is in dire straits. For every Raid and John Wick, there is a Taken 3, and the good stuff does not come out often. Like horror, if you want the best you go back to where it started with the likes of First Blood, Commando, and Predator. From what I know after doing research, Olympus Has Fallen is a callback to those hallowed classics. It is the archetypical 80s action B movie with an implausible concept, fast pace, and cheese punctuated by hardcore violence. In hindsight I probably should have rented it to gain more perspective in anticipation for its sequel London Has Fallen. Was it another 80s homage or should I have seen Whiskey Tango Foxtrot instead?
After the British Prime Minister is found dead, a funeral is held where a handful of world leaders come to pay their respects. President Asher, played by Aaron Eckhart, arrives under escort by his bodyguard Banning, played by Gerard Butler, before chaos erupts and all the leaders are killed. Banning and Asher struggle to get out of London as an overwhelming force bears down on them.
Homage is not the word I would use to describe London because it does its own thing with the 80s action elements. Banning and Asher have a kind of a buddy cop relationship, there are one-liners, and the set-up is bonkers with major Western leaders coincidentally brought to one place and slaughtered. Even the actors wink at the camera like they know exactly what is going on.
For the most part, however, the tone is bleak and relevant. The reason London is being attacked is because a drone strike killed the perpetrator’s daughter and other civilians. Its subject matter brings to mind the cost of drone warfare, interventionism, and cycles of revenge. I tend to be militaristic when it comes to how we should handle threats, but I was taken aback by what London was saying. It presents both sides of a scenario and leaves you to make up your own mind. Are we no better than the terrorists or is this conflict truly good versus evil and we are in the right? For me, when it comes to democracy against religious barbarism, which would you prefer?
It would not be an action movie without action and London takes a unique approach with violence that is technical and grounded in a visceral brutality. The combat is based on what a professional like Banning would do in a firefight, using distractions and other techniques that are not as ridiculous as one would expect. He does what he can to take out targets and moves on. Banning goes Rambo a few times, but only when it is appropriate to the situation. That does not stop the firefights from being great with some of the best I have seen in a while, topping 13 Hours. One moment in particular is a long shot of the characters pushing towards a fortified position with smooth choreography and camera work.
The strongest performances were Butler and Eckhart as they made a great team. The supporting cast also did pretty well for being in minor parts, but not enough to really stand out.
For a low budget, hokey action movie, London Has Fallen does a lot of things right that contemporary action has forgotten. It is not the best thing ever and it will never be as good as the classics, but it is better than what could have been. If you have a hankering for new action, I recommend giving it a look.
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This is a late addendum, but I just had say it. One problem with London Has Fallen is that it did not end with the “Friends (Forever)” song from Miami Connection. It is the most 80s track ever and it would fit perfectly at the film’s conclusion. Give it a listen and tell me I am wrong.