It should come as no surprise that London Has Fallen, the sequel to one of two White House disaster movies from 2013, is rated ‘R’ for extreme violence and blood. After all, a siege leaves copuntless people slaughtered around the streets of the English capital, and those bodies that aren’t bullet-ridden on the street are simply blown up.
What follows maintains the carnage, except instead of the bad guys shooting, now it’s our hero Secret Service Agent, Scotsman Gerard Butler playing an All-American hero, savaging and killing terrorists. He prefers a knife, but settles for whatever gun is at hand. Sometimes he snaps necks too. It’s an orgy of testorone, sweat, blood, grunts, and smirks.
What is not included in the adult rating of this tone-deaf, excessive display of masturbatory American patriotism, is that it also features plenty of xenophobia, carelessness, and immaturity. This movie fits perfectly in a culture where one bombastic American presidential candidate spews hatred and dominates headlines. It wouldn’t be surprising that He Who Should Not Named gives rave reviews of London Has Fallen.
The flimsy premise allows for the U.S. to obtain vengeance at whatever cost. Two years after an American drone strike misses a terrorist and instead levels a wedding in Yemen, an elaborate and far-fetched scheme is hatched to murder the leaders of the world arriving in London for the British Prime Minister’s funeral. We meet the fictitious version of the heads of state of Germany, Canada, Italy, France, and Japan, all of whom aren’t too dissimilar from their real life counterparts (the German Chancellor is a blonde woman, for example).
They die. As do many police officers. Buildings and bridges explode and collapse, and while characters in the aftermath try to assure the audience that the terrorists were targeting officials and few civilians died, it’s surely not the case as you watch a major European city erupt into flames.
To say London Has Fallen is tone-deaf is an understatement. I’m not sure exactly how a movie like this should proceed in 2016 (having already seen its release date pushed back following the terrorist attacks in Paris), but to be so self-serious, to have Middle Eastern characters only play the terrorists, to have our heroes glibly remark when they kill shows both a disturbing lack of nuance and much reckless abandon.
The sequel, which seems like it has a chance to not be the last movie in this series, wants to be simultaneously taken seriously as an action movie with actual stakes, but to not be taken so sternly that it looks like it’s killing off world leaders and saying all those from Yemen and surrounding areas are terrorists. It’s just a movie, right?
By hedging those two conflicting tones (poorly), London Has Fallen does nothing well on purpose – it sure does make you roll your eyes, scoff, and laugh. And depending on how empathetic you are, it may trigger some uncomfortable thoughts or memories of recent real-life events.
In that case, London Has Fallen is a failure on even another level. It fails society and the viewer: it is not a curiosity or a critique, an escape or investigation. Just a dumb, loud, hateful film that will cater to the worst among us.