After the fake (and occasionally authentic) cultural import of the annual Academy Awards, it should be refreshing to watch Gerard Butler shoot, stab and wisecrack a slew of anonymous Middle Eastern terrorists to death in “London Has Fallen.” But the frenzied sequel to 2013’s “Olympus Has Fallen,” returning Butler to his security detail in the role of the U.S. president’s infallible protector, works on a very low level of bloodthirsty escapism. Around the midpoint, long after London had fallen and couldn’t get up without Butler’s help, I was ready to escape the escapism.
Butler seems to love pretend-stabbing people. Per the script, he does it constantly in “London Has Fallen”: squish squish, to the eyeball! Splurch splurch, over and over, into the nearest terrorist thigh or gut! The way he performs these acts of violence, Butler’s Mike Banning is not just a man of Special Forces killing skills; he’s one step this side of sociopath, and the occasional wisecracks (“Thing are gonna get sporty,” he says, I think, at one point, though the Scottish native’s Yank dialect has its muddy patches) only make him less relatable as an action hero.
When the president (Aaron Eckhart, once again) attends the funeral of the British prime minister, he and a collection of world leaders come under siege in an astonishingly well-coordinated act of terrorism masterminded by a Pakistani arms dealer (Alon Aboutboul). This is inconvenient for Banning, whose pregnant wife (Radha Mitchell) just wants her man back safely.
Along with Butler, Eckhart and Mitchell, the returning “Olympus” alums include Morgan Freeman, now bumped up to vice president, though we all know he should be playing God at the very least; Angela Bassett as Banning’s security colleague; Melissa Leo, who ekes out a few lines as the defense secretary; and Robert Forster as a general with similarly, criminally little to do except stare at video monitors of digital carnage.
The Iranian-born director of “London Has Fallen,” Babak Najafi, was a late addition to the project. The film, with its wearying gamer-style rounds of death, is routine at best. This one’s strictly for Butler fans, and for R-rated action audiences hungry for a scenario in which the good, and mostly white, people pick off the brown, completely inhumanly bad people by the dozen.
One topic of potential future study: “London Has Fallen” might set the record for the most on-screen location and character identifiers in a single film. It’s the opposite of helpful, really, and a sign that a many-hands screenplay never figured out how to do its job correctly – that is, to build suspense and deliver the gory money shots in such a way that we don’t start dwelling on the paranoid, bellicose worldview baked into the premise.
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