Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart), the primary protectee of these (Whatever) Has Fallen movies, could just be the unluckiest commander in chief in history.
Or if you’re the glass-half-full sort, then he’s going to be blessed with a pretty lucrative book career after stepping down as President of the United States – a memoir on par with Grant’s. (I mean Ulysses S. Grant – not Fitzgerald Grant, the prez on Scandal, whose memoir would probably be on the porn shelf.)
After almost getting killed while helping to prevent his country from becoming a radioactive wasteland in 2013’s Olympus Has Fallen, Asher is now targeted along with various other world leaders by a massive terrorist attack during the state funeral of the British Prime Minister.
And the event wouldn’t be complete without Secret Service super-agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), the former Army Ranger who helped save the free world and its, er, leader back when Olympus fell.
He’s now back on presidential guard detail, shadowing the big cheese (almost) everywhere, but is mulling an early “retirement” because wife Leah (Radha Mitchell) is about to deliver their first child.
Then, nursery paint schemes, nannycams and resignation letters take a back seat when Asher is compelled to attend the state funeral after the Brit PM dies. All of Britain’s allies will be there, making the situation a security nightmare. So of course, and luckily for Asher, his best agent has to go too.
The scope is a lot broader this time out, with the action taking place across, over and under London.
But without the services of director Antoine Fuqua – an ace at imbuing slick, even over-the-top action with gravitas – London Has Fallen is now brought to us by Iran-born Swedish director Babak Najafi, making his English-language feature directing debut.
Najafi handles the action well enough but the circumstances here are neither as intriguing nor as high-stakes as they were in Olympus. So a lot of it looks rather by-the-numbers.
The director and his party of writers also take the safe route story-wise, avoiding potential political, ideological and religious backlash by having the central villain be a vengeance-obsessed international arms dealer rather than … you know, the global villain du jour and all its accompanying complications (come on, that never bothered the producers of 24).
We learn from an early scene that this bad dude, Aamir Barkawi (Anton Aboutboul), believes in the principle that vengeance must be profound.
So you can count on it that when he does make his move, for reasons made known as the film progresses, that it will be a devastating strike. (Although some of the timing and overall orchestration of his attacks don’t quite add up.)
But of course, the revenge-crazed Barkawi, his hirelings and his single-minded son Kamran (Waleed Zuaiter) probably never counted on Banning to seriously mess with their plans.
So for a large part of the film it’s all about Banning going above and beyond to keep Asher alive while facing a horde of bad guys.
Butler and Eckhart make a good pair of screen buddies, breezing through this sequel like they just slipped right back into their characters’ skins as if no time at all had passed between films.
Sadly, almost every supporting performer is wasted – nothing on par with Melissa Leo’s courageous Secretary of Defense standing up to the violent terrorist from the previous movie.
Here, she joins everybody else in just hanging around dimly lit command centres looking perplexed as Barkawi’s people pull one rug after another from under their feet.
It’s only Morgan Freeman (who probably insisted on having at least half a thing to do as the US vice president) and Charlotte Riley (as Banning’s MI6 contact) who … er, at least have half a thing to do. Each.
If visceral thrills are all you’re looking for, London Has Fallen will fill your quota for a couple of days. Apart from that, with hints of tantalising developments or plot twists that never materialise, it’s as hollow as a politician’s promise.
London Has Fallen
Director: Babak Najafi
Cast: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Anton Aboutboul, Charlotte Riley, Colin Salmon, Jackie Earl Haley, Robert Forster, Waleed Zuaiter, Radha Mitchell