Culver City Observer -



I'm betting the original London Bridge, built in 1830 and once spanning the River Thames, is pretty happy it now sits here in the United States in Lake Havasu City, because if still in London, it would have fallen victim along with every other landmark and historical site populating the city in the latest action sequel to hit the big screen, LONDON HAS FALLEN. Explosive non-stop action takes center stage as London is destroyed, and all the leaders of the western world (but for the US President) are killed, while Gerard Butler does what he does best - be a gritty, intense, no-nonsense hero.

Three years ago, moviegoers flocked to theatres to witness the madness and mayhem of Antoine Fuqua's "Olympus Has Fallen". While explosions and destruction always seem to entice folks to the movies in droves, seeing an enduring symbol of America, The White House, blown almost completely to smithereens while our leaders be tortured at the hands of a madman, was beyond irresistible. But out of those ashes rose a cinematic action hero audiences clamored to see more of - Secret Service Agent Mike Banning, played to perfection by Gerard Butler.

Fast forward to the real world 2016. As we have seen play out on a global scale, terrorist attacks on both small and large scales know no bounds. From San Bernardino to Paris to Jakarta to Burkina Faso and more, these attacks are a very real part of the world in which we live. So, it comes as no surprise to see screenwriters Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt, Christian Gudegast and Chad St. John, together with director Babak Najafi, up the ante on Fuqua's game and put LONDON HAS FALLEN on a global level with, of course, the United States, deep in the thick of it.

When we first met Agent Mike Banning three years ago, he was saving President Benjamin Asher and the United States from a North Korean terrorist and a guerrilla assault on the White House. By film's end he was reinstated to the presidential Secret Service detail and all was right with the world. Now, Banning and Asher together with Secret Service Director Lynne Jacobs head to London last minute for the funeral of the British Prime Minister whose sudden death raises its own set of questions.

No sooner do Banning, Asher and Jacobs arrive than mass explosions start happening all over London with landmarks like Westminster Abbey, Parliament, St. Paul's Cathedral and Chelsea Bridge, among others, blown up. Terrorists disguised as police, lead a ground assault, shooting politicians and citizens alike. It doesn't take long before power is cut to the entire city. London is effectively cut off from the world. And Banning, Asher and Jacobs are all that's left standing. Kicking into high gear, Banning's one goal is to protect the president and get him out of London alive.

Meanwhile, back in the United States, Vice-President Trumbull (formerly Speaker of the House in "Olympus" and now elevated to VP on the assassination of the former VP) and various cabinet members - including Secretary of Defense Ruth McMillan (a hostage in "Olympus" and now clearly suffering from PTSD), General Clegg, NSA Deputy Director Ray Monroe and DC Mason, and others - are watching the horror in London unfold from the safety of the White House Situation Room. And they are, once again, seemingly helpless. Also watching news reporters of the terror attack is Banning's wife, ready to give birth any day now with their first child.

As Banning, Asher and Jacobs try to evac, things go horribly wrong. Thankfully Banning has an MI-6 contact whom he trusts implicitly an as they make their way to the safe house, information comes to light that makes the situation even more urgent - the terrorists want to capture Asher, torture and execute him, streaming the execution live on YouTube. And of course, Trumbull, the cool head back in Washington, is also not one to sit idle. He puts his people to work on finding a way to help Banning, especially when he learns the terrorist behind the attack is Aamir Barkawi, a lethal arms dealer in Pakistan who seeks revenge against Asher for an "eye in the sky" drone strike that killed his daughter.

Gerard Butler knows the character of Mike Banning inside out. Appreciative is that he brings depth to Banning that incorporates the character's new concerns and considerations in life. Pensive moments are reflected with facial nuance that show internal conflict. Also welcome is the friendship that we see between Banning and Asher. While already evident and in place in "Olympus", as with Butler's individual performance and take on Banning, here, there is growth and a deeper understanding and familiarity between the two men that one can't help but appreciate. Thanks to Butler and Eckhart, they take the dynamic beyond that of employer and employee/brothers in arms, infusing genuine likeability that resonates. As to be expected, Butler and Eckhart manage to cut tense high octane moments with some easy humor.

Like Butler, Aaron Eckhart knows Asher, and he too brings depth and texture to the role which comes through the natural passage of time in the world of this fictional presidency. Morgan Freeman again makes an impact on the character of VP Trumbull. His mere presence on screen is commanding and authoritative with a cool-headed calm. Although with limited screen time, Angela Bassett is a powerhouse returning as Secret Service Director Lynne Jacobs. And again, we see growth in the character and in the dynamic between Jacobs and Banning.

Disappointing is the under-usage of Melissa Leo, Robert Forster, Jackie Lee Haley and even Sean O'Bryan, although he does get to have a few well placed moments as NSA Ray Monroe. But for one line, Leo is completely wasted and it feels as if she serves only for the camera to put a face on fear.

Charlotte Riley is stand-out as Banning's MI-6 agent contact, Jacquelin Marshall. She makes Marshall a perfect calm yin to Butler's Banning as a gung-ho yang. Impressive is Colin Salmon as London's Police Chief Hazard. Thanks to vocal inflection and manner, aided by judicious editing, Salmon raises suspicions as to Hazard's loyalties. Nicely done.

Alon Moni Aboutboul is more than believable as a father seeking revenge in the most heinous manner while Waleed Zuaiter, textures Barkawi's eldest son Kamran with a maniacal calm. Notable are not only the strength of performances by Aboutboul and Zuaiter, but the film's structure that allows their characters to develop with emotional conflict and ambiguity. We first meet them in a prologue setting at the wedding of Barkawi's daughter. We see the beauty of family and the joy of celebration. And then we see a United States drone destroy that joy in one split second.

While appearing rather cut and dried on its surface, on reflection the script opens up discussion on terrorism and internal corruption within governments and law enforcement agencies the world over. Not to be overlooked are the ever-present questions on drone strikes that loom large in real life. Plausible in theory, screen scribes lose momentum in the finer details and create holes and gaps that never get answered, relying instead on director Najafi to develop non-stop visuals to hold the audience's attention complete with non-stop "rah-rah USA" superiority.

Action is non-stop but relies on Butler's mano-y-mano combat style and a multiplicity of explosions and CGI as the connective tissue of the film as opposed to large action set pieces. Stunt work with vehicle chases around the town is top-notch as is the action fight choreography courtesy of Trayan Milenov-Troy and his team. Cinematographer Ed Wild does his level best to work within the parameters of CGI, and finds some key lensing moments in close quarter situations. Standout is the work of editors Paul Martin Smith and Michael Duthie, as well as that of sound department which never sacrifices audibility of dialogue in favor of an explosion.

Surprising is that Trevor Morris' score is rather lackluster and non-descript.

Although the film has some problems, LONDON HAS FALLEN is nevertheless beyond fast and furious entertainment. With a globe full of cities to pick from, the franchise has plenty of room to continue. I for one can't wait to see what falls next.

Director: Babak Najafi

Screenwriters: Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt, Christian Gudegast and Chad St. John

Cast: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Melissa Leo, Robert Forster, Jackie Earle Haley, Sean O'Bryan


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