In 2013’s dual of the “White House taken over by terrorists” films, I preferred White House Down over Olympus Has Fallen. Director Roland Emmerich’s White House Down very much embraced its roots in Die Hard‘s “average Joe underdog fighting against overwhelming bad guys” template while it seemed that Olympus Has Fallen seemed ashamed of the movie it knew it was aping, trying to distance itself from any comparison and not doing very well at it. So of course, Olympus Has Fallen is the film out of the two that did better box office and now a sequel – London Has Fallen.
The occasion of the death of the British Prime Minister brings a number of world leaders to London for the funeral, including President BEnjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart). However, the entire affair is a trap set by terrorist arms dealer Aamir Barkawi (Alon Aboutboul) which succeeds in killing off a number of world leaders. Asher barely escapes, thanks to the head of his personal security detail Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), who saved the president previously when North Korean terrorists tried to storm the White House. But when their helicopter is shot down, the two are left to traverse a London whose streets are crawling with armed terrorists determined to capture the President in order to execute him on live streaming video.
There’s a lot that is wrong with London Has Fallen, and almost all of it can be traced to its screenplay by Olympus Has Fallen writers Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt with additional input from Christian Gudegast and Chad St. John. Structurally, it is about as basic as one gets with an action film. The hero needs to run through a certain gauntlet of danger to a safe spot where he can have a moment of rest before repeating the process. If anything, the storyline feels more like an adaptation of a video game (with a dash of John Carpenter’s Escape From New York tossed in), with its various levels that need to be navigated to progress, than a story that is evolving naturally.
But the straightforward, no-surprises nature of the screenplay is further bogged down by the numerous action film cliches the cast are all asked to spout. “Stay alive… You’ve got to see your kid,” are the dying words of one of Banning’s colleagues who had just a few scenes before agreed to be the godparent of his impending baby. Banning gets to talk tough too, quipping “They should have brought more men,” when informed that the terrorist headquarters he is about to barge into probably contains one hundred armed bad guys.
But the real problem is Banning’s character. As head of the president’s security detail, it is to be expected that the character has a rather high level of competency when it comes to fighting, gun play and the like. But Banning exhibits such an unstoppable nature that the film generates no tension. As he just barrels through wave after wave of adversaries, Banning barely receives a scratch. There is no drama or suspense, just a feeling of boring inevitability.