RECAP: London Has Fallen

London Has Fallen (2016): Babak Najafi

After an OK debut at the box office, the studio decided to give Gerard Butler another chance. Saving the president, singlehandedly, wasn’t enough of a challenge for him on home turf. This time, they sent him to England.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: The world’s most unfortunate president is again held hostage, but he’s got the world’s best bodyguard to fight for him.

Hero (8/10)

Gerard Butler returns to the role that made as famous as he was before he played the role of Mike Banning.

Banning is the American president’s chief Secret Service agent, a guy so in tune with keeping the president alive that he can kill dozens of enemy agents without suffering much of a scratch.

We first see the hero as he jogs alongside the president, easily keeping pace, even running backwards, just to show off. “Hell of a presidential race, sir,” Banning says, eager to win Dad Joke of the Year.

Boss asks him how he keeps up to snuff. “Bourbon and poor choices.” One of those poor choices might be his house, where he runs after the presidential jog. The entire thing is lily white.

Banning’s about to have a baby, too. And he’s ready to step up the surveillance game. The baby room has six monitors and, if he’s lucky, it will have a kevlar mattress.

The film’s trouble starts when the UK Prime Minister suddenly drops dead. His funeral attracts world leaders. The top, top guys and gals. Italy, France, Japan, US–they all send their heads of state.

Banning is tasked with the ground game in London. Showing off his protection skills, Banning changes the arrival time without telling anyone. Maybe not even the president knew of the change.

On the ground at Stansted, Banning is accosted by the head of MI-5, John Lancaster, for the change. “Why wasn’t I told?” MI-5 asks. “Nobody was,” Banning says, “that’s how you keep it a surprise. Zing.

And a good thing, because the president is attacked, like all the other key world leaders. Even better thing–Banning is there to protect.

In the initial attack outside St. Paul’s, the terrorists kill many good guys. Banning caps five guys before anyone else on his team gets a kill. He protects the president and Secret Service director Jacobs (Angela Bassett) as an incendiary grenade melts a car hood and another car flies above and smashes the first car.

For Banning, the attack and subsequent flight across London is all fun and games. Well, not so much fun as entertainment, and not so much games as practice. Entertainment and practice.

And chances to spit lines. Banning always has the right quip dialed up. He tells one goon dangling from a car window that it’s “not where you want to be right now.” This is the opposite of the Visa tagline. He drags that guy along a wall, crushing him with the car.

Banning reassures with his actions, but not his words. He and Asher take refuge in an MI-6 safe house. When that’s compromised, Banning sticks Asher in a gun closet, telling him not to come out until Banning comes back.

“What if you don’t come back?” Asher asks. “You’re fucked,” Banning answers. No use in sugarcoating. Remember that Banning drinks bourbon.

Banning’s martial skills are world-class, to be discussed later, but let’s say for now that he can fight better than anyone on this planet, maybe in history.

Banning’s ingenuity really sticks out. He can take any weapon and immediately use it to its best effect.

Consider this moment. Banning and Asher take refuge in Charing Cross station. Six terrorists follow them into the tube stop.

Banning, having just taken grenades, an AK, and a gas canister from a terrorist impersonating a bobby, uses them all in quick succession.

First he gases the group. As they shoot panic fire, Banning comes around behind them and tosses a grenade. When the smoke, clears he walks in and guns down the ones still alive.

The final living villain in the scene gets a radio call from Kamran Barkawi, the man executing the plot. Banning takes the call, starts calling him “Cameron,” and slowly digs a knife into his brother’s back.

We see the knife going in. It’s a cringing scene. Even Asher can barely watch, who asks Banning if that was necessary. By Banning’s admission, it wasn’t, but it sure was fun. OK, so maybe yes it was fun and games.

Banning is fighting for a cause, one expounded in the end when he nearly kills Kamran. The cause is that America kicks ass, and so does Banning.

Villain (4/10)

Aamir Barkawi (Alon Aboutboul) is perhaps the world’s most successful arms dealer. He’s “number six on the ten list,” which makes him sound bad, but not the worst.

The film opens with voiceovers of newscasters describing a terrorist attack in Manila, one with all the imprints of Barkawi weapons. Strangely, the Manila attack is never again referenced.

No matter. Barkawi lives in a beautiful part of Pakistan. He presides over his daughter’s wedding on a fateful day. His son brings news that one Pakistani general is no longer of service to the family, delivering the message with a bloody beret.

The general had betrayed the Barkawi clan, and Barkawi uses the incident to deliver the line that defines the film. “Vengeance must always be profound and absolute.”

And, boy, will it. A few minutes later, after an MI-6 agent has identified Barkawi, some hack Call of Duty fan in Nevada joysticks a drone missile to detonate the wedding.

Dozens die, but we assume Barkawi didn’t because then there would be no movie.

Two years on and some terrorists attack London during a funeral. Obviously it’s Barkawi, a fact he soon confirms by telling the world on the internet what he did and why.

Barkawi calls out the West because they “murder our families remotely from the sky.” He continues, “we’re bringing the war to you,” forgetting that the war had already been brought by some other guys living in Pakistan.

“This is the day when your world changes,” Barkawi says to the whole world. And they saw it all on (don’t visit it)!

Let’s give this guy a break. Vice President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman cashing paychecks) describes Barkawi as a man “responsible for more deaths than the plague.”

Player’s just trying to move up that “ten list.” He’s only number six. What’s a guy got to do? Barkawi, directly addressing the American security council, says, “I never lifted a finger against you.”

He has a point. Sure, Barkawi is indirectly responsible for innocent deaths from terrorist attacks, but who isn’t? The US killed innocents inside Barkawi’s house.

Aamir is the mastermind of the London attack. Though he walks with a limp now, having survived the drone strike, his mind remains sharp. But he stays in Yemen, off the grid.

Aamir’s son Kamran (Waleed Zuaiter) is the man on the ground in London leading the attack. He held his sister in his arms as she died after the drone strike. He’s following his father’s advice about vengeance being profound and absolute.

For Kamran, this fight is personal. During his radio exchange with Banning, Banning taunts him, dubs him “Cameron,” and kills his brother by literally stabbing him in the back. Banning laughs it off. Kamran cries. This fight is personal.

Kamran leads a hugely successful attack. In a few short minutes his team kills the presidents or prime ministers of Canada, Japan, Germany, France, and Italy, men and women in different places throughout London.

The terrorists know so well where the leaders are, that they even blow up the correct Westminster Abbey tower to assassinate the Italian prime minister and his 30-year-old mistress (or, I hear you doubters, wife, she could be his wife).

Later they shut down London’s power grid, which should really help the city to save the money it will need to clean up the terror mess.

Kamran’s captures President Asher after a city-wide search. He wants to decapitate him online at 8:00PM.

As that fateful hour approaches, he beats the president and drags a machete along his back and neck. Kamran can barely keep his seething rage under wraps. Another Barkawi, a man left with no legs after the drone strike, implores Kamran to kill the president and not wait for the internet connection to return, but Kamran refuses. The whole world must see.

Father and son Barkawi prepare and execute their plot flawlessly. The only reason they did not capture or kill Asher was the superhuman terrorist-killing techniques of Mike Banning. Can any force stop Banning? Can nature stop Banning? Can death itself take Banning? We don’t know, but it’s hardly the Barkawis’ fault that they aren’t Death.

Vengeance must be profound and absolute, and in London it was.

My chief concern with London Has Fallen is whether or not this plot could happen? While watching the destructive scenes, I initially waved off the possibility. But then, I recalled that 19 guys hijacked four planes and flew them into two of America’s three highest buildings and the Pentagon. So yeah, it can be done.

The Barkawi family is exceedingly rich. Their house is dope, and they are alluded to be the world’s best arms dealers. They bribed MI-5 20 million euros to betray his country.

But what would the rest cost? They employed perhaps 100 men for the attack. They wouldn’t require 20 million. A half-million might be enough, perhaps as low as 100,000 euros. For some men it might be a one-day job. Labor cost might be 50 million.

The weapons, presumably, would be free. Barkawi would have access to them. Getting them into the country might be hard, but maybe not.

The most unbelievable aspect is what Jacobs said. She claimed there was no chatter on the attacks. If only the family executed the plot, that could work. They would only need to meet in person to plan it. But too many men were involved, it was too over the top.

Action/Effects (7/10)

London Has Fallen is as packed with action sequences as it is with dead world leaders.

The first scene shows the initial attack and getaway of Banning and Asher. Magnetic grenades and Stinger missiles are employed, and to great effect.

I have to detail a spectacular attack on the Barkawi central London compound. It took a long time to locate the place, but once the US and UK intelligence teams got on the ball, they moved far downfield in a hurry.

Asher and Banning drive toward the US embassy. They know it’s heavily guarded, but they are shit out of options. First they drive through a shooting gallery of terrorists. Their bulletproof car is no trouble.

They think they are in the clear when a truck pulls out from an alleyway and flips the BMW onto its roof. Asher is dragged from the car and whisked away as Banning tries to stab their destination from a terrorist.

That doesn’t work. At least the British SAS team is on the scene, ready to escort Banning to the compound. They have to walk, but the streets are clear.

As they approach the building under construction, they take fire from dozens of baddies. The only way to get inside is to shoot their way up a narrow street.

And how! In one long take, reminiscent of such a scene in Children of Men, Banning and the Brit Boys run down the street. The camera work and choreography are terrific.

Downframe are the terrorists. Their tracer fire blinks like thousands of june bugs. The camera follows behind Banning and then in front, then behind a Brit and then in front.

Occasionally the soldiers are cut down. When they take cover behind a wall or in a doorway, a dozen squibs burst on the concrete near their heads. In the open, a few fall from the hail of bullets.

An RPG streaks through the street. A van with a minigun inside it blocks the road, until Banning throws a grenade underneath it. Banning approaches an intersection, sees a guy come around the corner, and smashes his face with the butt of his rifle.

All this is in one take, or at least it appears so. Terrific work by the stunt and effects team and the actors. The scene ends when a Brit rocket detonates the Barkawi building’s power supply.

As for the digital effects, they were bad. Green screens were obvious and the digital explosions looked 20 years old.

Sidekicks (4/8)

Banning is a go-it-alone guy, not because he wants to be, but because all his buddies die in London Has Fallen.

Chief among the dead is Secret Service Director Lynn Jacobs. Bassett finds her role upgraded in the sequel, getting more screen time and in the hot zone.

Jacobs has spent much time planning for presidential catastrophes, but, as she says, it’s another thing to be in the thick of one. For a secret service agent, she doesn’t seem up to the task.

She is unarmed for her entire trip, which I found strange. She’s a manager, sure, but wasn’t she once an agent? I don’t know her backstory and don’t quite understand it.

Sadly, Jacobs is given a bad line. On the chopper flight from Somerset House she says, first, that there was no chatter on the attack. That is slightly believable. Second, she says, “it was a trap.” The president says, “That’s an understatement.” Screenwriting tip: when a character says a line is obvious, perhaps take the line out.

Jacobs gets the most badass death in the movie. She’s impaled on metal as Marine One falls into a London park. Banning eases her into her passing. Jacobs says to him, “I never thought you would outlive me.” Banning comforts her. Finally, Jacobs says, “Make those fuckers pay.” Bad line before, great lines at the end.

Banning’s other help comes partly Stateside. VP Trumbull is again acting as president. Unlike the first terrorist attack in Olympus Has Fallen, Trumbull knows exactly what to do in the situation room.

While the NSA director and Secretary of Defense gawk at the footage from London, Trumbull orders a strike team from Sicily to deploy and barks orders like a head chef at dinner time. No other character changed as much as he did from first to second film.

Trumbull is the guy who thinks to follow Barkawi dummy companies to find his hideout in central London. That plan works. He calls Barkawi and throws a line back at him from earlier. With a smirk, Trumbull informs Barkawi that a drone strike is about to finish him, for good, at his hideout in Yemen. “Maybe you should look out your window,” Trumbull says. Barkawi, understanding the meaning, and looks up, not out.

After the climax, Trumbull addresses the nation, dispelling thoughts that the US and UK brought the attacks on themselves. In trying to solve the world’s problems, he says, “The worst option is to do nothing.”

Henchmen (4/8)

The Barkawis enlist hundreds of friendly folks for their mission. What kind of money they have is unknown, but it must have been hundreds of millions.

The chief Barkawi tech guy lost both his legs in the drone attack. He is now a hacker, wearing glasses and cheap cotton cap. He couldn’t look more like a bum, but his hacking skills seem on point. For example, he turns off the city’s power grid.

The family must have had a man on the inside. Turns out it was the head of MI-5, John Lancaster. That he’s found out by an agent in MI-6 proves that they really are one better.

Lancaster is shot to death by Jax, the MI-6 agent, in the carpark in New Scotland Yard. Why did he do it? To prove that the country was about to be overrun by terrorists. Talk about self-fulfilling prophecy. Also, 20 million euros. He couldn’t even get the cash in pounds? Bad negotiator, this guy. Also, he forgot to clear his access logs. Who can’t remember to clear their browser history? Dipshit.

The terrorists were highly motivated and devoted to their cause. Each one seemed willing to die for said cause, and these are the most dangerous types of people. How can you stop someone willing to die for a cause?

Stunts (6/6)

Stunts in London Has Fallen were the film’s highest achievement, highlighted by a spectacular car chase across London.

After Banning successfully fends off a dozen terrorists from the initial strike outside St. Paul’s, he must get Asher back to Somerset House and the choppers waiting to take them back to Air Force One (are Marine helicopters transported on the jet?).

Another agent drives a Range Rover onto the cathedral steps. Banning, Jacobs, and Asher get inside. The car drives toward the helicopters, but the terrorists have motorbikes and a stolen police car in pursuit.

Banning directs the driver to use oncoming traffic to flip the cop car. As the car pulls alongside the Range Rover, with two guys hanging out shooting machine guns, Banning has the driver pin the car against a civilian’s car. The enemy car flips spectacularly.

Now the motorbikes cause a bigger problem. There are three of them. They come behind the Rover. Banning calls out, “Hard brake now.” The driver does so and one terrorist’s head crashes through the rear window. In a boss move, Banning shoots the helmet and tosses the body onto the street.

More bikes appear in front. They pepper the windshield (sorry, windscreen, this is the UK) with machine gun fire. The glass is not enough to protect the driver, who is shot in the neck.

Jacobs and Banning co-drive for a moment. Banning opens a door, leans out, and caps a gunner, who falls off the bike without the driver losing control.

Banning gets in the driver’s seat and reverses the car. He opens the driver’s door to flip one biker off his transport. Another guy pops in through the window to say hello. After Banning advises him that the car is not the best place for him now, he wedges the man between the Rover and a wall.

This chase was a great scene of ingenuity and terrific motorcycle driving. And the stunts didn’t stop there. Banning has to fight a lot of guys hand-to-hand, of course.

His finest achievement comes in an MI-6 safe house, when six fake-Delta force people raid it. They have body armor and machine guns, but ain’t no thang for Mike Banning.

As the half-dozen men storm the house, Banning takes them out with ease. He knifes the first guy in the eye. When his buddy investigates, Banning chokeholds him and extracts the knife from the first guy’s eye, delivering five quick stabs–Banning’s signature move–to the second guy.

Banning dodges fire from below and slides into another room. Two more guys run toward him but Banning mows them down.

The fifth guy is the trouble guy. He has a knife and slashes at Banning with great force. Banning uses fast moves, and they are more than enough to counter these power slashes. Banning gets the upper hand, turning the knife toward the attacker and plunging it into his jugular.

The sixth guy? Asher, who was told to hide in the armory, blasts him in the face. Banning delivers the line of the movie, “I was wondering when you were going to come out of the closet.” Yeah, it’s a cheap gay joke, but, damn, it was well timed.

All the points for the stunts pulled off in this movie. The driving was inventive and brutal, quick but powerful, full of contradictions, making for great conflict.

Climax (3/6)

After watching that street shootout, it’s hard to top that in the climax. But here we go.

Banning comes up with a plan for storming the Barkawi hideout. He’ll go alone. With covering fire, he runs onto a scaffold and along toward the building, where he parkours through the hole in the wall created by the British RPG.

Inside, the terrorists are scrambling to start a generator so the internet will work again to live stream President Asher’s execution. Banning, who got a night vision glass somewhere, uses it to creep through the building. He sets a remote bomb on a gas line. That’s his grand plan.

Banning clandestinely kills two guys before the lights come on. When they do, he finds himself between five baddies. Banning ducks into a doorway, but the baddies see him and start shooting, killing two or three of their own, because that’s what stupid terrorists do.

Banning pops out and kills the others, still dodging fire. He moves through the building, uses grenades, finally gets shot in the arm. A blood packet splatters red on the wan concrete.

In the murder chamber, Asher hears the gunfire. “That’s the sound of inevitability,” he tells Kamran. The Barkawis half listen, more concerned about their wi-fi connection.

When the connection returns, Kamran beats Asher as the latter recites the Presidential Oath. I was hoping for the Preamble or I Have a Dream or something slightly more inspirational than “I will do a job, very well, until I can’t anymore.”

The world watches the feed. Kamran draws out a long machete. For some reason, the machete is the creepiest of long blades. Claymores, scimitars, scythes–perhaps these weapons are too artfully made. The machete is a utilitarian blade devoid of caring craftsmanship. Maybe that’s why. No matter, good choice Kamran.

As Kamran draws back the blade, we watch on the feed as Banning comes in and shoots the remaining guys in the room. He fights Kamran and his machete, using exposed rebar to wedge it from his hand.

Banning smashes his empty gun into Kamran’s face, punches his jaw, and nearly breaks his arm. That barely slows the son of an arms dealer, who probably can’t fight that well.

“We’re not some fucking flag,” Banning says as he pummels Kamran. “A thousand years from now, we’ll still fucking be here.”

The legless guy, shot twice by Banning, drops a live grenade, breaking up the fight. Kamran survives and escapes, but not for long.

There’s more shooting. The terrorist supply is endless. Banning calls for the SAS guy, coolly waiting outside, to blow the remote bomb. He does. The music swells as a fireball engulfs the building’s three stories, including Kamran, finally. The president and his best bodyguard fall through a shaft to survive.

“I fucking hate funerals,” Banning says as they’re rescued.

Jokes (4/4)

Banning loves nothing more than a president under fire. He pretends that he loves quiet, family life, children, etc., but that’s a lie. He cracks jokes like he cracks heads: early and often.

Banning tells Asher, “The car’s bulletproof, not politician-proof.” The president hasn’t driven a car in six years, so, duh, he sucks. (Must be PRETTY nice, eh, sir, not having to drive around. Pretty nice indeed.)

I don’t know all the countries in the world, but I don’t think there’s one called “Fuck-canistan,” as Banning taunts to Kamran.

“I fucking hate funerals,” Banning says at the movie’s end. Chances are they’ll have to visit a lot more.

Setting (3/4)

London Has Fallen uses terrific aerial shots of London before and after the attacks. The camera encircles St. Paul’s, Westminster Abbey, Parliament, and other, lesser landmarks.

London looks fantastic throughout the film. Late in the movie, the British sound an air raid siren to warn people to stay indoors. Banning and Asher run through the streets alone for several shots. Very eerie, very cool to see.

The opening scene in Pakistan is the most impressive. Barkawi seems to have it made: nice mansion, well kept grounds, huge property. Every square inch of his compound bespeaks beauty.

All these locations were well shot.

Commentary (2/2)

Unsubtly, but lost on Banning, is the reason for the London terror attacks. London Has Fallen paints a vivid picture of drone strikes in Pakistan.

Barkawi and his family relax at the family compound. Barkawi’s daughter is being married. The party is beautiful and colorful and classy.

WHAM. A drone-launched bomb blows up the party, killing many, but not the prime movers in the Barkawi family.

The movie seems to say that maybe the US should be less high-minded about its dealings with terrorists.

If someone tried to kill you, but instead killed most of your family and friends, wouldn’t you want revenge? You would, and the steps from suffering to vengeance might depend on your resource pool.

Banning sets himself up as all that’s great about America. He tells “Cameron,” in the end, that America will still be around in a thousand years.

When people start throwing around the “thousand years” line, I think of the Third Reich. Maybe Banning didn’t think that; maybe the screenwriters didn’t think that. Maybe.

Barkawi and his ilk are terrorists, sure, but their killing and the G8 governments’ killing, in the movie, is tit-for-tat. Some leaders perish, but so do many more civilians.

Who is right? Banning, Asher, and the American top brass are certain they are, but the movie is less so.

Offensiveness (0/-2)

The British are absolutely hapless in their security. Scotland Yard Chief Inspector tells his charges to “Muck in and get it right.” What the hell? They have the most important people in the world in their care, and they get them all killed. Oops.

The terrorists access and disable the CCTV system that covers London. MI-6 agent Jax disables the access codes, giving Scotland Yard back its powers of observation. But the Chief Inspector didn’t even know there were access codes.

When the terrorists attack, the Brits treat it like an unwelcome uncle has just arrived at their Sunday tea. They act like “Oh bother/We’re in for it now/We didn’t muck in enough” as world leaders are dying all over their city. Maybe if they had more horse cops.

The Brits smirk at what the American security team wants. Would they like Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders? Or perhaps the Kardashians? They all have a Oxford/Cambridge style laugh at themselves: less “yuk-yuk” and more “capital joke Reginald.” Bloody fools.

That said, I enjoy the ridicule of British fops.


  • The movie helpfully provides titles and names to many of the speaking characters in the American and British security rooms. I don’t think their names are important so much as their titles, but I appreciated the help.
  • Two guys actually high five in the American command room.
  • The Canadian Prime Minister takes a call from his daughter. She failed her driving test and blames her dad. That’s SO Canada.
  • Banning’s resignation letter is comprised entirely of cliches.
  • (-1) The White House looks fine after its near-total destruction in Olympus Has Fallen. Why no mention of the original?

Summary (44/68): 65%

London Has Fallen surprised me. Butler seems more in his element in round two, and the action is slightly, the slightest of slight lies, less over the top.

Bringing the president into the unfamiliar and dangerous territory that is not the White House upped the tension for the Chief of State. The action scenes were on par with the original, but dragging President Asher across a foreign city was enough to make this movie a rare upgrade over its predecessor.