Tuesday, March 8, 2016

"London Has Fallen" Review: Budget Has Fallen Is More Like It

Over 3 years ago there were two films about the White House being taken over by a group of terrorists. One of those films was White House Down, a box office and critical flop that sunk any future hopes for star Channing Tatum's action hero career. The other movie was Olympus Has Fallen, a far less high profile film with a far less bankable star in Gerard Butler that went on to become a surprise hit with both audiences and critics alike. While both films shared many of the same flaws the key ingredient that made Olympus Has Fallen stand out from its bigger budgeted brother was that it had personality to spare, something its sequel London Has Fallen also shares. But is that personality enough to make up for the standard plotting and many technical stumbles that plague it? Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:   
Projector Type: 2D Digital           
Film Rating: R
Film Runtime:  1 hr 40 min
Studio: Focus Features
Release Date: March 4, 2016

Loves: Die Hard
Likes: Olympus Has Fallen, Gerard Butler
Neutral: Cash-in sequels
Hates: Action movies with boring action
Why was the attack staged in London again?: Wouldn't it had made more sense to stage the attack in a less fortified location?

Well, there goes most of the budget right there.

2 years have passed since the siege at the White House was thwarted. President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) is still in the oval office and watching his back is secret service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), the very many who single handedly saved both him and the White House from the terrorist invasion. After years of service however Banning is ready to hang up his guns and start a family with his pregnant wife (Radha Mitchell) but anyone who knows how these types of stories play out will know that whenever someone is about to retire and has a baby on the way they are gonna have a rough last couple of days on the job. That is exactly what happens when the British Prime Minister suddenly dies and upon all the world leaders visiting London for the funeral they fall under attack by a large group of terrorists looking to take revenge on Asher and upset the world order.

Before sitting down to watch London Has Fallen (LHF from this point forward) it is important to understand what kind of movie it is. Much like its predecessor Olympus Has Fallen (OHF from this point forward), LHF is a straight up Die Hard clone. The formula is well known by this point, one guy versus a bunch of bad guys, lots of guns, explosions, violence, wise cracks and a gratuitous use of F-bombs for no other reason than to emphasize just how bad ass someone is. LHF comes through on just about all those points with no real attempt to evolve the formula for better or worse but there are a number of technical problems that keep it from attaining the same level of exhuberant silly fun that made OHF such a blast.

Both the bad guy and these people have no bearing on anything that happens...seriously.

While OHF wasn't a masterpiece by any means or even the best example of the genre, it was a well crafted action thriller. Most of that was in thanks to director Antoine Fuqua, the same man responsible for other hard hitting action thrillers such as Training Day and The Equalizer. His replacement for the sequel, Babak Najafi is clearly a step down with a resume filled with mostly unknown Swedish films with titles that don't really inspire much confidence. Easy Money 2: Hard to Kill...really? Does it feature Steven Segal hunting down Rodney Dangerfield or something? The polite thing would be to give the man the benefit of the doubt but after watching LHF it is all too clear the ambitions of the film outweighed the talent of its director who was likely brought on due to a bargain basement price tag.

Najafi frames his action sequences like he is trying to hide it from the audience and his attempts to add tension fail miserably. He isn't completely to blame for the films many technical issues though as for some reason LHF was given a slightly lower budget than the first film which is a Hollywood tendency that has always struck me as an odd decision given the original film already had a fairly low production cost to begin with. But the difference in budget is more than obvious, not just due to its claustrophobic action sequences (most of the gunfights and brawls take place in narrow unlit corridors or abandoned alleyways) but more in some odd oversights to how it depicts an entire city being taken over by terrorists.

The bromance between Banning and the President is still in full effect.

London is a pretty big city with over 8 million people living there but watching LHF you may question that number as we hardly see anyone at all. Combining all the secret service people and police we see along with a random assortment of bystanders early on you might think there are fewer than maybe a thousand or so. Even more perplexing is just how efficient the London populace is at evacuating the city streets. You would think that after such a catastrophic attack at the heart of the city and zero police presence that there would be mass chaos with stores being looted and/or all sorts of crimes being committed but no, the people of London apparently are very skilled and very compliant when it comes to their government telling them to go home and go to bed because just hours after the s**t hits the fan there isn't a single civilian on the streets for the rest of the film. There aren't even signs of recent activity with streets and subways seemingly squeaky clean which gives the film an artificial vibe.

Perhaps the budget didn't allow them to cast too many extras which after seeing all number of high dollar walk-on supporting actors makes the most sense. Back again are Morgan Freeman as the Vice President, Robert Forster as the General and Melissa Leo as that bad ass chick who took a beating in the first film. Joining them are some newcomers including Angela Basset as the director of the secret service and potential god mother for Banning's kid (hmmm...I wonder if she will survive this?), and Jackie Earl Haley as random guy number 3 at the White House crisis center who likes to show videos to people. While those names are impressive it's sort of sad and wasteful when all you have them doing is sitting around a table reacting to things that were likely filmed months later after they collected their paychecks and went home. Having scenes with people in a room looking at screens if fairly common for these types of films but in LHF they seem oddly disconnected from everything else happening.

"Oh my god, our paychecks won't be here until tomorrow."

But the real victim in all of this budget cutting is the action itself which is mostly a mixture of somewhat decent practical effects work and some of the worst CG effects since...well, the first film which already had some pretty iffy special effects on an even bigger budget. While most of the stuff on the ground level such as a a couple breezy car chases and a surprisingly well staged (if a bit silly) single shot shootout sequence near the end are all fine, it is when the fight is taken to the air that things get a bit dicey. In one of the bigger action set pieces of the film we watch as 3 helicopters dodge missile after missile being shot at them from what seems like dozens of bad guys immacuately placed on rooftops all over London where we are privy to an almost cartoonish display of pyrotechnics that does nothing but help take the audience out of the action. aside from when one of the most silly orders issued ever is uttered, "Prepare to sacrifice!", the sequence is a complete failure in nearly every way possible.

There is one last oddity with LHF that is a real head scratcher and that is its 3 act structure or lack thereof. You see, a film generally abides by the 3 act rule, a beginning where characters and/or plot points are introduced, a middle where the basic plot is put into motion moving towards a conclusion and the end where all important characters and plot points converge to wrap the story up. LHF is missing that third act or at the very least has had its third act truncated in a way that feels not only bizarre but wholly unsatisfying. Banning's raid on the terrorist headquarters feels like a midway point for the story but when it abruptly concludes after a lackluster encounter in a parking garage (which features not one of the main characters) all we get is a couple shots of Banning at home and that's it. Seriously, the final big speech of the film isn't even given by the President, the guy who was under attack the whole time, instead Morgan Freeman signs the film off simply because...well, I don't know...cause he's Morgan Freeman?

Banning's wisecracks are still fun but aren't enough to keep this sinking ship afloat.

Where LHF shines brightly once again though is with its appropriately smart ass self aware attitude backed by a good ole fashioned R rating. Most of that attitude derives from Gerard Butler who is in his element with roles such as this. While naysayers can easily disregard his performance as more of the same from the first film, in this case that is actually a very good thing as he was one of the best things about that particular film and is again here. Whenever Banning is busy stabbing, breaking necks, decapitating, blowing up or otherwise destroying the bad guys in increasingly sadistic ways all the budgetary and directorial problems seem to evaporate as the audience basks in the glorious excess. Perhaps if there were more moments where Banning drives a knife into the back of a bad guy while holding a radio up to his mouth so his brother can hear him scream as he slowly and painfully dies then we could forget everything else but alas that just isn't the case.

In the end one has to wonder what the thinking was behind making a sequel to OHF exactly? It certainly didn't lend itself to the sequel machine and just about everyone behind the scenes didn't see a reason to come back, so aside from collecting a paycheck why do it? After watching LHF the answer is sadly no reason at all. OHF is a stronger, more entertaining and ultimately better made film in nearly every respect. LHF may be the more ambitious of the two but ambition doesn't mean a thing when the execution is this flawed. While there are a handful of cool moments and Butler tries his hardest to make the journey fun it just isn't enough to make up for just how bland and boring the rest of the film is. White House Down may not have been as good as OHF but compared to its sequel LHF it suddenly becomes a much better film.


LHF is one of the more depressing action films in recent memory. It isn't as bad as something like A Good Day to Die Hard but it's up there. It's predictable, boring and worst yet is that you just don't care what happens to anyone. Did you even realize there was no mention of who the terrorists are in the above review? That's because it doesn't matter, they are just some random group of people who want to kill and serve the film's purpose in giving our hero someone to kill as we cheer him on. It's America at its most egocentric and it does nothing but make the film come off as a really poor bit of propaganda.


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