Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) says he’s made of “bourbon and poor choices.” His pointed self-assessment is conspicuous not so much because the secret agent never pauses during Babak Najafi’s London Has Fallen to take a swig, but because there’s never any doubt throughout this sequel to Olympus Has Fallen that Mike isn’t going to make all the right choices in once again saving President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) from the clutches of a terrorist mastermind. And it’s the dulled sense of self-awareness in Butler’s delivery that initially announces the film as a degradation of sorts, one that’s less a knowing imitation of Die Hard than an imitation of an imitation.
Mike contemplates his resignation at the start of the film, though it isn’t for reasons that have anything to do with the child he’s about to have with his wife, Leah (Radha Mitchell). The screenplay so quickly deems her superfluous to the story, though certainly not as disposable as Ashley Judd’s first lady from Olympus Has Fallen, that it’s understood that Mike is just biding his time until he’s reminded of his essential purpose. (Somehow, jogging backward alongside the ruler of the free world brings him no satisfaction.) And in London, where the world’s leaders converge to mourn the death of the United Kingdom’s prime minister, he not only rediscovers his sense of purpose, but becomes a symbol of the film’s own belief in the upside of American power.
The film begins with a torrent of footage of terrorist attacks from all over the world, all of which seem to point to one man, Aamir Barkawi (Waleed Zuaiter), who’s ostensibly killed by a U.S. drone attack in Pakistan’s Punjab region. Two years later and it’s only the audience that has the intel—i.e., the knowledge of having seen countless films like this before—to comprehend that the funeral for the U.K.’s prime minister at St. Paul’s Cathedral is a concerted effort to bring the world’s superpowers to their knees. And as Mike and the president arrive at the cathedral, the prime ministers of various countries are cheekily rendered as dominos waiting to fall in some weirdly elaborate revenge plot.
London Has Fallen is never as funny as when the Italian prime minister is observed giving his 30-year-old honey a private tour of Westminster Abbey’s rooftop, but the film’s kinetic action, essentially a series of chases carried out across central London’s streets and subway system, comes with its own punchlines. Racing the president toward safety after the initial attack on the city, Mike transforms their getaway vehicle into a Rube Goldbergian killing machine, slamming on the brakes in one scene so a motorcyclist can crash through the back window and he can shoot him point-blank in the head.
Butler, whether sliding out of a car door to shoot at a pursuer or jumping from scaffolding and into a nearby building, is as fleet on his feet as Najafi is in his sculpting of the film’s flurry of action. Like its predecessor, London Has Fallen is content to dumbly relish in the inanity of Mike’s rampage. Outside of a scene where Lynne Jacobs (Angela Bassett) acknowledges our government’s lack of foresight, politics are rarely on its mind. But as smart as it may seem for painting Barkawi as seeking revenge solely for the death of his daughter, the film mostly succeeds at advancing Mike’s improbable yet largely singular survival as a symbol of American triumphalism.