'London Has Fallen': Film Review

Gets the job done.

Many of those who enjoyed Gerard Butler's disgraced Secret Service agent single-handedly saving president Aaron Eckhart's butt the first time will likely turn up to see him do it all over again.

Far more than London Bridge falls down in London Has Fallen, the latest entry in the major world capitals destruction porn sub-genre.

Arriving roughly three years after its progenitor, Olympus Has Fallen, surprised everyone, and particularly the makers of White House Down, by grossing $161 million worldwide, this budget-conscious high-octane action piece verily zips along at such a fierce clip that it's over practically before you know it. Many of those who enjoyed Gerard Butler's disgraced secret service agent single-handedly saving president Aaron Eckhart's butt the first time will likely turn up to see him do it all over again.

As is their wont, the terrorists have become more sophisticated and ambitious this time, bringing one world capital and many world leaders to their knees with a long-aborning plot. In Olympus it was the North Koreans who were up to no good, but here it's a wealthy Eastern arms merchant out to avenge and humble the West.

In this, the bad guys are initially successful in a way that, for anyone who knows and loves London, is distressing and depressing to behold. To be sure, the visual effects here are nowhere near the level of something like Inception or Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, but they are just good enough to present a realistic idea of what it would be like to see Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament blown to smithereens. And that's just for starters.

Of course, everyone has their reasons, and the motive of the main heavy, a drippingly rich and malevolent Pakistani, Aamir Barkawi (Alon Moni Aboutboul), is to exact revenge for the West having killed his daughter and many others at her lavish wedding, where he was the main target. The trigger he devises is to use the death of the British Prime Minister, which he has secretly arranged, to bring all the top Western leaders to one place for the funeral and drop the hammer on them all there. As he declares, “Vengeance must always be profound and absolute.”

Not that the occupants of the White House are oblivious to the possible danger. Eckhart's President Benjamin Asher and his staff, which includes not only Butler's Secret Service agent Mike Banning, but also the returning Angela Bassett's Secret Service Director, Robert Forster's top general, Melissa Leo's Secretary of Defense and Morgan Freeman's vice president (promoted from Speaker of the House in the wake of the former veep's death), are supremely wary of the trip, but the Western leaders must show up to honor a close ally.

Despite every imaginable precaution, however, things begin going boom on the afternoon of the funeral; the only thing that emerges clearly from the hell storm is that there had to have been significant enemy infiltration of Britain's security forces. As the world television audience witnesses the mayhem, several heads of state are killed, while Benning tries to spirit the President by chopper back to the waiting Air Force One. They don't make it, instead landing on foot somewhere on the outskirts of London with no choice but to battle their way back into the city, block by block, and reach the American Embassy.

The bad guys, led locally by Barkawi's son (Waleed F. Zuaiter), have a different idea, which is to kidnap the President and get the highest ratings in history by executing him on television. It's all high-concept pulp but, unfortunately, not an inconceivable stretch in theory given the kinds of previously unimaginable barbarities that have recently taken place and been broadcast to an insatiable online public.

While not nearly as elaborate, nor as visually sophisticated as the last Mission: Impossible outing or the most recent Bonds, London Has Fallen is actually more plausible at its core, if not in its details, which is partly why it succeeds in laying claim to an audience's attention for the entirety of its swift running time.

Iranian-born Swedish director Babak Najafi, who previously did Easy Money II and here took over the franchise reins from Antoine Fuqua, maintains a hard-driving pace without descending into frantic narrative illogic and hits the right tone that allows Butler to get off a load of rude, reassuring one-liners. The original's writers, Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt, were aided and abetted here by Christian Gudegast and Chad St. John.

Butler manfully dispenses justice here many times over, and even if the other main actors are in it strictly for the paycheck, they've all been in a whole lot worse in their time.

Opens: Friday, March 4 (Gramercy Pictures)
Production companies: Millennium Films/G-BASE
Cast: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Alon Moni Aboutboul, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Jackie Earle Haley, Melissa Leo, Radha Mitchell, Sean O'Bryan, Charlotte Riley, Waleed F. Zuaiter
Director: Babak Najafi
Screenwriters: Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt, Christian Gudegast, Chad St. John,, story by Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt, based on characters created by Creighton Rothenberg, Katrin Benedikt
Producers: Gerard Butler, Alan Siegel, Mark Gill, John Thompson, Matt O'Toole, Les Weldon
Executive producers: Avi Lerner, Trevor Short, Boaz Davidson, Christine Otal Crow, Heidi Jo Markel, Zygi Kamasa, Guy Avshalom
Director of photography: Ed Wild
Production designer: Joel Collins
Costume designer: Stephanie Collie
Editors: Paul Martin Smith, Michael Duthie
Music: Trevor Morris
Senior visual effects supervisor: Sean Farrow
Casting: Elaine Grainger

Rated R, 99 minutes