“London Has Fallen” (2016) – “They drew first blood, not me.” – John Rambo
When looking up “alpha male” in the dictionary, one will probably find a photo of John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone), but I would guess that Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (Gerald Butler) is noted as “See also”. Agent Mike Banning is the kind of guy that Dirty Harry would be proud to call a partner, as he openly admits that he is made out of “bourbon and poor choices”.
He owns one of the most respected jobs in America as someone who will take a bullet for President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart), but after a lengthy career, Mike seriously looks at resigning his post to focus on his wife and their soon-to-be-born child. Although easing into a relaxing 9-to-5 job as a suburban dad might be a difficult transition, as multiple baby monitors (seven, I believe) currently sit in the nursery, and he claims that the crib needs a Kevlar mattress.
Director Babak Najafi, however, does not wish to send him into retirement just yet. Great Britain’s Prime Minister passes away, and President Asher and Mike need to suddenly make a trip across the Atlantic for the funeral in London. Not only will President Asher attend but so will other leaders throughout the free world, and St. Paul’s Cathedral will become “the most protected event on Earth”. As fate would have it, the best laid plans turn sour in a hurry, and the president and Mike find themselves running on foot while seemingly hundreds of terrorists hunt them down.
Now, the narrative of “London Has Fallen” – a sequel to “Olympus Has Fallen” (2013) – feels completely predictable and cliché in every way (and silly in some ways), but even though the audience greatly suspects the countless moments of eminent danger, the film does build suspense. The movie feels like a less sophisticated episode of TV’s “24” and presents a deadly-serious setting with New Scotland Yard and White House operatives struggling to manage the crisis, while Mike uses his most pugilist skills to protect President Asher.
With zero remorse and some authentic glee, Mike beats up, cuts up and shoots up literally hundreds of bad guys within a 1 hour 39 minute runtime. This level of continuous and brutal violence would normally feel overwhelming, but Mike disposes of the ruffians with genuine passion but also comical dispassion, not unlike Indiana Jones pulling out his pistol and nonchalantly shooting a man who carried a whip in one of the most noteworthy scenes in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981).
Butler delivers his lines with confident machismo and heated regularity which undeniably engenders primal eye-for-an-eye emotions. The screenplay clearly establishes who is “good” and who is “evil” and does not dance in any shades of gray. As an audience member, I bought in, especially when Najafi ratcheted up the tension during the first 10 movie minutes in London, and Mike Banning must have taken notes from Rambo’s playbook, because he pulls the right levers to gain our virile admiration (or perhaps, disgust).
Admired and talented supporting actors – such as Morgan Freeman, Robert Forster, Melissa Leo, Jackie Earle Haley, and Angela Bassett – are really not given a chance to stretch their acting muscles, and their on-screen time feels wasted. On the other hand, when President Asher asks Mike about his current state of health and he responds with “I’m thirsty as f***,” one knows that the movie truly focuses on one character and the actor who plays him.
Perhaps, I experienced a Rambo-flashback, but admittedly, I must concede that the film works on this level.
Image credits: Gramercy Pictures; Trailer credits: Movieclips Trailers (YouTube)