In the current climate, to present a film depicting an attack on a major Western city by Middle Eastern terrorists, you’ve got to be mightily sensitive on what is a distinctively delicate subject matter. Delicate, however, is by no means the word you would use to describe Babak Najafi’s London Has Fallen, an irresponsible piece of filmmaking that does little but perpetuate a fear and a stereotype.
Not to say productions of this nature should be censored. If anything, it’s imperative that cinema reflects reality in this way, serving as an antidote to the more supernatural, superhero endeavours; but it has to be done right tonally. There are two ways to approach such material: to thrive in the notion of overstatement; to be farcical and overtly theatrical, much like the preceding endeavour Olympus Has Fallen was. Or, you go in the complete opposite direction and vie to represent real life in a naturalistic, kitchen-sink way. Najafi, however, tries to find an incompatible balance between the two. Having his cake and eating it springs to mind.
Notorious arms dealer and fugitive Barkawi (Alon Aboutboui) is seeking vengeance on the leaders of the Western world, and when the British Prime Minister dies in his sleep, the State funeral seems like the perfect place to plan his terrorist attack. The US President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) is of course a key attendee, though cautious of the security threat, he is adamant that his loyal, diligent bodyguard Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) be by his side. The latter, on the verge of handing in his resignation notice, puts that to the back of his mind, as suddenly remaining alive to see his child be born becomes the prominent fear, when London comes under attack.
Having the terrorists disguised as civil servants, be it policemen or ambulance workers, taps into a fear, as we don’t know who we can and can’t trust. It’s an effective technique, and what the Paranormal Activity franchise survives off: the notion of infiltrating where we feel most safe and secure, and compromising it. Another positive comes in the fact the antagonists have a face and an identity – not to mention a motive (Barkawi’s family were killed during a drone attack) – which is more than can be said of Michael Bay’s 13 Hours. But let’s not pretend for any minute this film is any more sensitive, for lines such as “go back to fuckheadistan or wherever you’re from” are simply offensive and entirely superfluous.
The narrative is also too singular, because we focus all of our energy on the safety of the President, and lose sight of the enormity and implications of the attack, as we’re following his particular story so closely. It’s almost as though his life is the only one that actually matters. London Has Fallen just hasn’t got that charm or energy that Olympus had before it, proving to be an underwhelming sequel to say the least. But hey, it’s geographically correct when the protagonist’s are navigating their way around the streets of London, so that’s something, right?