London has Fallen is that rare of occurrences: An action sequel which is better than the first. That isn’t to say it is a great movie or that the improvement is a huge one, just that changing the location to the other side of the Atlantic seems to give the movie the injection it needs to offer something slightly different and less generic; at least for the first act.
As the first act and the set-up for the movie’s main events was unfolding, I found myself hugely invested and on the edge of my seat. This must have been partly because of the new location and as a Brit, seeing London fall really struck a chord.
It helps that this set-piece is perfectly staged. The film takes it’s time to place each of the world leaders attending the funeral of the British Prime Minister at very unique and in some cases iconic locations. For some, you have to suspend your disbelief a fair way but it pays-off when the explosions start and the action truly kicks-in.
This is also where the real impact of London has Fallen hits home. It is a string of successive terrorist attacks and when the smoke clears and London, broken and on full alert, is finally revealed, you can’t help but get a chill. Some of the explosions suffer from dodgy CGI, but these effects really strike a chord, which may just be too real for a mindless action movie.
Luckily, this doesn’t seem to last too long as Gerard Butler and Aaron Eckhart find themselves straight back into the action once more. Butler plays the John McClane archetype Mike Banning, who shoots first, shoots second and might ask a question if it includes him being able to swear. Butler is very capable as the hero and the action sequences work very well, even if, like the classic 80s and 90s films this seems to be aping, the character’s decisions seem nonsensical.
It does mean we get a very cool chase sequences through the streets of London and then a decent helicopter set-piece to round off the best parts of the movie. This is when the movie’s major issues begin to appear. Once London has fallen, the movie reverts back to the issues that plagued the first film. It becomes a generic, one versus all film which could be set anywhere. It stops being about the unique, titular location and just an excuse for Butler’s Banning to destroy a lot of buildings, trash a lot of cars and brutally kill a lot of people. All of this is done very well, the choreography is good and the action well-staged but it isn’t anything we haven’t seen many times before.
It also highlights how reliant on Butler the movie is. The writing is as bad as the first except this time we have to put up with even more of Eckhart’s awfully written President. The film can’t seem to decide whether he is a man out of depth, shocked by everything or a bad-ass President willing to get his hands dirty. It is probably looking for a gradual transformation but what happens is a sudden flip, from Eckhart playing damsel-in-distress to being just as capable as Butler’s Banning.
The final act doesn’t ruin the movie, it just struggles to live up to what has gone before. Like many of the old fashioned action films, everything is wrapped up neatly. Any chance of sudden twists, including a poorly conceived plot involving a British mole, are just tidied away, quickly and with little impact.
Overall, London has Fallen showed great potential with a blistering opening act which showed that there is still a place for mindless action with a heavy body-count. The devastation to London is staged well and slightly chilling but this is soon forgotten when the film becomes the usual generic action movie that has been done many times before, and much better.
Rating – 3
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