LONDON HAS FALLEN
Written by Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benedikt, and Christian Gudegast and Chad St. John
Directed by Babak Najafi
The Prime Minister dies after a routine surgery and the world leaders must attend his funeral in London, so you know terrorists are going to have magically infiltrated everyplace so they can kill all the leaders except the US President (Aaron Eckhart), who is being protected by Mike Banning (Gerard Butler). Man, if only the terrorists had seen Olympus Has Fallen, the first movie where Mike Banning saved the president, they might have had second thoughts about going ahead with their silly plan.
All right, first of all, this movie is beyond stupid. There is pretty much nothing believable anywhere in the film, and whenever they can, they go for the cliché instead of trying for anything new or different. Sample dialogue:
“There are a hundred terrorists in that building!”
Mike Banning nods. “They should have brought more men.”
At the beginning of the film, I saw the long list of writers with the writing team of Creighton & Benedikt getting a story by credit plus a screenplay credit before the AND Gudegast AND St. John, and I knew the movie was probably going to suck balls.
Explanation time for those who don’t know how Hollywood works. When you see the ampersand—that’s the & symbol—you know those two writers worked together on the script. They collaborated and pounded out story points and character arcs and callbacks and set pieces to build and deliver the action, story, and emotion as best they could. When you see the word AND spelled out, it means that the next writer took the script and reworked it. In order to get a screen credit, they have to add a certain percentage of new material. Note that this movie had a collaborative team (the authors who wrote the original Olympus Has Fallen and created the main characters) and then the producers or director (or both) hired another writer to rewrite the script and then they hired yet another writer to rewrite the script. Odds are, other writers worked on it too, but didn’t make enough changes to get a screen credit. There’s more money when you get a screen credit, so as a writer you really want that. Consequently, you’ll make changes that don’t need to be there in order to get the extra pay.
Screenwriter Chuck Pfarrer said (and I’ll have to paraphrase here because it was during an interview I did with him years ago), “There’s a point where your ethics become soluble in hundred dollar bills.” He was talking about taking a job to rewrite Barb Wire. Don’t judge Chuck by that cinematic gem, or by his work on other movies (Hard Target, Navy SEALS, The Jackal, etc.). If you want a great book by Chuck, definitely read Warrior Soul, his memoir about his time as a Navy SEAL; that one is outstanding.
In any case, when multiple writers rewrite one another, it’s not about story anymore. So the original team works to get a layered script, and others come in and screw it up or perhaps fix it and let someone else screw it up or maybe they all screwed the pooch. It’s nearly impossible to say, but too many writers normally means you’ve got a bad movie on the way. It’s rare when you get something decent after seeing multiple ANDs in the writing credits.
I may be off the mark here, but I suspect a lot of the set up was by the original writing team. There are a lot of players introduced, and we get their names and positions displayed on the lower third of the screen so we can hopefully keep track of the various characters we’ll see throughout the film. Only we don’t really see most of them throughout the film, so you won’t need that scorecard. Some are killed off because they’re world leaders. Some are simply forgotten because the other writers couldn’t be bothered with them. Why not cut them altogether? Maybe they were rewriting the script as they went. It wouldn’t surprise me. The only name you’ll really need to remember is Mike Banning.
What surprised me is that I was able to turn off my brain enough to enjoy the movie more than I should have. It wasn’t the writing, which was pretty bad, and layered cliché on top of cliché from the stay-at-home pregnant wife of Mike Banning to the piss-poor security where policemen and palace guards are easily infiltrated without anyone noticing before the bullets start flying to the brave black woman who dies a noble death, though it meant nothing, and I hope Angela Bassett got a big paycheck and didn’t have to spend much time on set. She deserves better roles.
So by all rights, I should have hated the movie. Yet, I sat through the whole thing. I suspect it has something to do with the way Gerard Butler played his role. He’s like the Ultimate Bad Ass American who will throw one-liners out there like Arnold Schwarzenegger did back in the 80s. In so many ways, this was an Arnold movie without Arnold.
After Mike Banning kills a bad guy, the president says, “Was that necessary?” Banning grins and says, “No.”
Mike Banning banned bullets from hitting him, knives from cutting him, bad guys from getting him, bombs from blowing him up, helicopter crashes from injuring him, car wrecks from slowing him down except at the point where the bad guys need to be able to take the president hostage so Banning can go save him against all odds, and go it alone in spite of having a Delta team there with him. No, this is a job for one guy. You guys stay back here and press this button when I tell you to. I’ve got this. I’m Mike Banning, after all. I am not kidding.
Mike Banning gets shit done. See Mike Banning kill terrorists. See Mike Banning jump out of the way so terrorists kill each other. See Mike Banning arrive in the nick of time to save the president from being beheaded. Bad guys ought to just shoot themselves to save Mike Banning the hassle of killing them.
Go, Mike, Go!
Kill, Mike, Kill!
See Mike Kill!
Taken on that level, the movie is actually kinda fun. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still godawful, but it’s so bad it’s almost good in spite of itself.
A few years from now, if this movie is remembered at all, people will be doing drinking games to this movie. Take a drink each time a worn-out cliché rears its head. Take a drink each time a normal guy would have been killed. Take a drink each time Mike Banning should have reloaded his guns (Mike Banning has banned guns from running out of bullets until he’s ready to eject a magazine and slap a new one home in dramatic fashion). I saw Olympus Has Fallen when it came out, and I’d completely forgotten about it until I looked up this movie’s credits for this review and saw it was a sequel. Based on that, maybe the drinking game won’t happen.
This movie should probably get an F for being stupid and illogical. However, it embraces every cliché and doesn’t care if it disappoints people who might want a bit of nuance. There are remnants of a deeper story here and there—the initial drone strike that opens the movie kills lots of innocent people, but when the USA causes collateral damage, that’s okay because we’re the good guys. When the other side causes collateral damage, they’re terrorists. I suspect there’s a more interesting draft of the script that explored that. There are occasional nods, such as the mention that the terrorists aren’t specifically targeting civilians. That movie would have given us a better story.
In spite of that, I have to say that on the level the movie wants to be taken, it delivers. Does it matter that the CGI helicopters look like they were taken from a Tom Clancy video game? Not really. Does it matter that the movie will probably offend everyone outside the USA? Maybe—after all, action movies often make more internationally than domestically. London Has Fallen is pure pro-USA: one bad ass secret service agent is better than a hundred terrorists. Outgunned, yes, but Mike Banning has banned reality from intruding on his action fantasy.
On that level, I have to give it a C. Your mileage will vary.