Despite myself, I enjoyed Olympus Has Fallen, a gung-ho movie about a disgraced Secret Service Agent single-handedly taking on an army of North Korean terrorists. It was, basically, Die Hard Goes to the White House—and it was a piece of highly watchable, if absurdly violent, bubble gum entertainment.
Oh, how I long for its (relative) innocence. Because its sequel, London Has Fallen, is atrocious—wildly implausible, casually racist, mean-spirited, and strangely defensive about U.S. drone strikes that take out innocent civilians in the Middle East.
The film starts out off with one of those strikes—at the wedding of the daughter of a nefarious Yemeni arms dealer Aamir Barkawi (Alon Aboutboul). (Arms dealer or not, in any right-minded film, the people taking out the wedding party would be the villains.) Fast forward two years and the 48-year-old British prime minister has dropped dead of a sudden heart attack in his sleep. No one thinks this is particularly unusual or worth further exploration and, instead, all the heads of state, including U.S. President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart), are summoned for the funeral.
Meanwhile, our Secret Service hero Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) has both a very pregnant wife (Radha Mitchell) and a half-written letter of resignation on his computer (!) when he gets the news of the overseas trip. He and White House security chief Lynne Jacobs (Angela Bassett) urge Asher to skip the funeral, as they won’t have time to fully prepare, but Asher refuses. Once we’re in London, we meet the various prime ministers and presidents, all (hilariously) modeled after the real deal (although, in this case, the actual Canadian Prime Minister is way hotter than his movie surrogate, unsurprisingly.)
Faster than you can say, “Hey there’s the London Eye!” all hell breaks loose—half of the cops assigned to the funeral detail are actually terrorists (our first sign that something is awry: an ominously swarthy back of a police officer’s head…ugh.) Even the freaking member’s of the Queen’s Guard are secret terrorists—in fact, everywhere you look terrorists are coming at you, from the sky, from the ground, from the river Thames. All the attending world leaders are assassinated, only President Asher survives.
Now look, I’m not the kind of person who rolls her eyes and says, “yeah right” during escapist entertainment, but this was beyond the pale. After the mayhem, someone in British intelligence mentions they were surprised there was no “Internet chatter” on an attack of this magnitude. Ya think? Also, the whole thing was planned by Barkawi and his son Kamran (Waleed Zuaiter)—who survived the drone strike (the daughter wasn’t so lucky)—over the course of two years. Just spitballin’ here: Maybe the London police would’ve noticed if half their ranks were suddenly filled with brand new recruits who came from out of town?
And then there’s the hilarious perfection of Banning—played with Butler’s usual growly swagger—who is brave and smart and makes wisecracks in the face of danger. (Sample wisecrack: “Why don’t you go back to F*ckheadistan…or wherever you came from!”). It was his brilliant plan to arrive earlier than scheduled, throwing off the timetable of the terrorists, thus saving Asher from being assassinated. He also always knows just when to shoot—sometimes while his torso is dangling out of a speeding car—how to coordinate a split-second car crash that will take down his pursuers, how to turn off a power grid, where the MI6 safe houses are—and, not for nothing, he seems to know London better than a local Uber driver. This film makes the latest Bond adventure seem like an exercise in sober realism.
The film ends on a very bizarre bit where Morgan Freeman, as the Vice President, tries to justify American drone strikes in the Middle East by suggesting that the only other option is total isolationism. (Pretty sure it’s not quite that cut-and-dried.) But it’s the film’s racism that will truly stick with me: At one point, Banning captures one of Barkawi’s sons and slowly kills him with a knife as Kamran listens to his brother’s screams over the phone.
“Was that necessary?” Asher asks Banner afterward.
“No,” Banner says flippantly, eliciting a (malicious) laugh from the audience. So we have discovered Banner’s one flaw: He’s a sadist.