Sunday, 20 March 2016

Movie Review: London Has Fallen (2016)



In 2013, a strange occurrence took place in that we got not one but two films involving a siege on the White House by terrorists going after the President. I’ll leave whatever political connotations can be read into that, considering how this came about not that long after Obama was re-elected, and instead look at them both in context to each other. Now, White House Down is a film I haven’t gotten around to yet because, quite frankly, less Roland Emmerich in my life can only be a good thing. However, going just on the casting of Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx and the image from the trailer of Foxx as the President wielding a rocket launcher, I can only assume that the film didn’t take itself too seriously. Olympus Has Fallen by Antoine Fuqua, on the other hand, plays things so seriously that the frequent action/siege/borrowed from Die Hard clich├ęs that crop up regularly instilled laughter in the audience. For the record though, as a film I actually have seen, OHF was a decent watch. The acting was good, with a surprisingly awesome turn from Melissa Leo, the action shows Fuqua’s knack for brutal and low-flash fight scenes and the pacing was excellent, even if the story got topsy-turvy in spots. Given how I watched this film for the first time recently, I’m sure I’ll get asked why I didn’t do a full review of it. Well, judging by how today’s film has fared with audiences, I was worried that I would just end up repeating myself verbatim because the sequel would be exactly like the original. At this point, I can only hope that I’m wrong. This is London Has Fallen.

The plot: After the British Prime Minister is found dead, a state funeral is set up comprised of several of the world’s leaders including U.S. President Asher (Aaron ‘Buttchin’ Eckhart). However, once the world leaders are attacked by terrorist Aami Barkawi (Alon Moni Aboutboul) and his many operatives running through London to find him, it’s up to security chief Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) to once again take down the aggressors and keep the President safe.

I would like to start my look into this… piece of work with a direct quote from the film itself: “Every single one of these guys is a terrorist asshole until proven otherwise.” Now, given the current action movie landscape, what with the popularity of paranoia-driven franchises like Mission: Impossible, it would be expected that this film would carry a similar air to it. And, to be fair, the film does try to bring that across with how widespread Barkawi’s agents are. Would that it were so simple? Instead, that quote is meant in complete seriousness and it is here that the previous film’s habit of taking itself way too seriously starts to bear the fruit of some far bigger problems. Even before the big calamity takes place involving the deaths of several world leaders (that, once you realize the villain’s main objective end up being kind of pointless), said world leaders are framed as if any one of them could be in on the big conspiracy, echoing back to the betrayal of Forbes in the original. The film then continues to take that suspicious eye and widens it to encompass pretty much everyone that isn’t in the room with the Vice President (Morgan Freeman) or isn’t the President himself. Everyone else is a suspect. This idea could’ve worked really well at building suspense, given the foreign ground they’re on and the intentions of Barkawi. Unfortunately, it isn’t framed with the idea of “these people are bad” and more in line with “these people hate America”.

Throughout the film, there’s throwaway lines about how many enemies the United States has and how agents from any of them could be involved, with frequent mention of how Barkawi has ties to several corporations and even governments. Casual racism abounds in Banning’s dialogue, particular that aforementioned quote as well as threatening to send someone back to “Fuckheadistan”. This is where some air of grey morality would be especially helpful, given how the impetus for all of this is a strike made by the U.S. that got civilians killed, including those close to Barkawi. Unfortunately, not only does the film repeatedly just make assumptions on the fly that people are bad but then the reality that the film exists in actively reinforces those assumptions. Banning thinks that people coming to save him and the President are enemies, based on rather flimsy evidence? The world wraps around him and proves him right because, let’s face it, this is a world where the U.S. is incapable of doing anything wrong. I am finding it difficult to continue this review, with all of this jingoist clap-trap in tow, without just ending it at “Fuck this movie and everything it stands for”. But that would playing directly into the film’s hand because it wants hatred to be spawned from it. It wants people to be wary of The Other, as any one of them could wish to do them harm. It’s the same mindset that fuelled a lot of war-time propaganda, except this doesn’t have anything as glorious as Captain America punching Hitler in the face to bring some kind of ironic fun into the mix.

What we have instead is a frankly juvenile protagonist who thinks swearing in every other sentence like he’s auditioning for a role in an upcoming James Rolfe production makes him cool. To see this character go from being on a road to redemption after failing to save another life on the job to simply mowing down herds of people because the life of the President is worth so much more than the people who could die later as a result of not handing him over is pretty damn disheartening. No, I’m not expecting a film to come right out and hand him over to stop the chaos, but some lip service to the obviously murky tones of the story would have been nice. Instead, rather than any kind of character growth or competent writing, we have Banning cracking jokes about the President coming out of the closet and proving that he is so much better than the British military forces that, unlike pretty much everyone else he’s encountered thus far, actually wants to help him. I’d normally file this under some form of parody, given how blatant it is in its mode of America, Fuck Yeah! Except it isn’t even that kind of self-aggrandizement that, in doses, can make for entertaining cinema. Instead, it’s more like America, Fuck You Because You Aren’t Us! Knocking someone else down instead building yourself up; it’s every bit as juvenile and wrongheaded as the main character that the film keeps trying to insist is a good guy. This character, on its own, is bad enough but what makes it even worse that the film not only takes his side but warps reality just so that his outlook is taken to be accurate.

All in all, this is hateful in pretty much every sense of the term. Even ignoring its cheap special effects, its weak action set pieces and frankly embarrassing dialogue, this is loathsome because it embodies the kind of black-and-white mentality towards who gets killed in an action film that cinema has collectively spent several decades dissecting and making fun of. Since it spares no time for genuine character moments or even any form of tension with its story, all it ends up doing is promoting the idea that people should be afraid. I have all of zero patience for this intolerance, to the point where the fact that this film actively got applause when it ended at my screening honestly scares me a little. No, this wasn’t a carbon copy of the original but, in all honesty, I kind of wish it was to avoid this crap. As much as The Choice insulted its audience’s intelligence by just assuming that the women watching were unable to handle tough emotions and dilemmas, a fair bit of that was in subtext that wasn’t immediately made obvious. By contrast, this flashes all of its insecurities for all the world to see. If people keep thinking (and acting) like this, then no wonder the U.S. has so many supposed enemies.

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