*/**** Image A Sound A+ Extras D
starring Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Alon Moni Aboutboul, Morgan Freeman
screenplay by Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benedikt and Christian Gudegast and Chad St. John
directed by Babak Najafi
by Walter Chaw It's a corker. Playing exactly like another instalment in the "Call of Duty" FPS videogame franchise, Iranian-born Babak Najafi's London Has Fallen is a gobsmacking, jingoistic, political exploitation horror-thriller that traffics in contemporary paranoia with unusually exuberant brutality. It loves killing people. Loves it. The picture's packed full of xenophobia and all the other insidious forms of fear infecting our modern apocalypse: hatred of the Other, terror of invasion, terror of the self. It fashions what is essentially another 28 Days Later sequel by recasting the rage zombies as Islamic Fundamentalists, simultaneously creating in the process a recruitment video for bellicose young men in the West wanting to kill Arabs--and one for bellicose young men in the Middle-East wanting to kill Americans. Tidy. London Has Fallen is propaganda with a budget, a few recognizable faces, and some directing chops to boot. I'm equally glad and appalled it exists. I wish I were more surprised that it does.
A sequel to the really, that was a hit? hit Olympus Has Fallen, London Has Fallen finds super Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler)--so gnarly even his name is a commandment of erasure--contemplating retirement from the detail of President Handsome (Aaron Eckhart), who, as the movie opens, sends a drone to destroy a wedding in Yemen. It's justified, though, because the people getting married are the family of some terrorist (Waleed F. Zuatier), and when it comes to terrorists, Geneva what?, amiright? It's unforgivable bullshit that, you know, happen sometimes, maybe a lot, making London Has Fallen something like a documentary of our national psychosis: It is exactly how far we've reduced ourselves to fight fire with fire. Movies like this and Suicide Squad are symptomatic of a collective illness. If we make it another thirty years, sociology classrooms will be decoding these films for their rich veins of disease.
London Has Fallen is so firmly entrenched in our zeitgeist that it's drawn folks like Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo, and Robert Forster to solemnly deliver its flat exposition and stare fixedly at television monitors in ways befitting a few of the most honoured actors of our time. It seems that following the death of the British PM, several heads of state assemble at the most popular establishing shots in the UK to be ambushed by a sophisticated plot originating from "Fuckheadistan" (that's right) that involves somehow turning, oh, 80% of the London constabulary into ISIS lunatics. Everyone's dead not long after an occurrence at Chelsea Bridge (it blows up), leading Banning into action to spirit POTUS to safety. In my favourite scene in the picture, a noble agent gets perforated by bullets and Banning yells, "Put pressure on the wound!" The guy in question is essentially a screen door. Soon after, Banning grabs one of the baddies' walkie talkies and puts it up to his mouth while he stabs the poor bastard slowly, to death. "Was that necessary?" POTUS asks. "No. But it felt good," Banning says.
The movie operates on the theory that watching these two very masculine white men viciously murder thousands of Yemeni and white, British splinter agents seeking to undermine our way of life feels good. It says a huge amount about who we are right now that something like London Has Fallen could possibly exist. What's sticky about it is our current state is so insane that it's impossible to satirize. The idea of levelling London with the aim of executing POTUS live on TV and the Internet doesn't actually seem like science-fiction. When The Manchurian Candidate was first released, it was criticized for being too fantastic; I wonder if it's even possible to make something with political undertones anymore that could be accused of being stranger than fact. Without much contortion, the plot of the picture and its rage-filled, racist, mouth-breathing response becomes the exact platform Donald Trump is running on for President of the United States. Which has worked for him. London Has Fallen is who we are. That it didn't do as well as its predecessor, at least domestically, suggests hope. That's what I'm going to try to take from it, anyway.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
Canada's VVS Films brings home this ugly little number in a 2.35:1, 1080p transfer that looks exactly as good as it should. Status quo for a digital production trying to pass itself off as film, the image is sturdily detailed with excellent dynamic range. It looks so good here, in fact, that the relatively small CGI budget is glaringly obvious during the destruction of Britain's landmarks (all of them) and, later, when there materializes a slow-moving and oddly-sentient fireball. A Mario Bros. fireball, this. Much of the film takes place in murk and nighttime because it wasn't shot in London, it was shot on the cheap in Bulgaria. The attendant 7.1 DTS-HD MA track is angry and booming. (There's also a DTS: X option for those so equipped.) It's demonstration-quality stuff, with debris flying around in every channel. Even quieter sequences show how conscientious the audio engineers were in considering the entire soundstage. Worth noting that the mix as presented is extremely loud, though I don't know why you'd bother watching this movie at anything other than ear-shattering levels.
A "Making of" (13 mins., HD) showcases the principals, including an energetic Najafi, who talks in the way one does about how much fun the movie was to make, how everyone involved was committed, and how Butler, who's a producer this time around, really drove the whole thing. Najafi marvels at how Butler let him do whatever he wanted, while Bassett concurs that Butler was a good co-star AND a good producer. "Guns, Knives & Explosives" (8 mins., HD) breaks down the Chelsea ambush and discusses in more generic terms the choreography of the ubiquitous action scenes. Universal's stateside platter appears to be identically encoded save for the VVS selection of startup trailers (Precious Cargo, Mr. Right, Hardcore Henry, and Criminal). The VVS combo pack contains a DVD copy of the film; the Universal release adds a download code.