It’s early days, but I think I’ve seen the worst movie I’m going to see in 2016. If I see anything worse, it will have involved fraud, false advertising, and very possibly kidnapping and hostage taking; all perfectly valid plot angles for a movie, but not generally thought of as something you ought to be doing to get and keep an audience.
I can’t accuse the team behind London has Fallen of false advertising, because I’d seen Olympus has Fallen and I know enough not to expect sequels to improve on the original, no matter how low a baseline the original has set. In principle, a random group of barbary apes had at least a 50:50 chance of producing something better than Olympus has Fallen, but Hollywood isn’t run by anything remotely as useful as a random group of barbary apes.
So, new terrible director. A lot of the same cast. I wanted to say the same star, but Gerard Butler isn’t a star, exactly, more a sort of crudely animated glower that bobs up unaccountably in the middle of murder movies and romantic comedies. I tend to assume that the rest of the cast are retained by reminding them that Gerard Butler actively loves stabbing people, since it’s hard to think that Morgan Freeman and Angela Bassett are really finding it that hard to pay their butlers. As always, I find myself praying that Butler is the best actor in the whole world, since the thought that he’s not acting his way through stabbing and bashing people is too unsettling to contemplate. The less said about what’s happened to poor Aaron Eckhardt the better. He deserves a real job, and here he is, once again the designated chick to Butler’s government-issue serial killer.
Once again, Butler and his date have to fight off hordes of terrorists determined to kill the US president and everyone else on screen. Roughly 90 % of the cast get killed, which gets super weird when the camera zooms out to the pick-up shots and no-one in London seems remotely worried about the fact that the city has had its landmarks “decimated”. This is what happens when you shoot as much of the movie as possible in Bulgaria and use shonky CGI for anything dramatic that’s supposed to be happening in the London you’ve put in the title.
When the money’s so tight that you’re shooting in Bulgaria, there usually isn’t enough money for a script, and there’s never enough money for enough action to distract you from the lack of a script. And so it proves. There’s about a TV show’s worth of action squeezed into a movie’s worth of time, and it’s rationed out sparingly. I won’t swear that it takes half an hour before we even get to London, but it sure feels like it. When I was commenting on Olympus has Fallen’s big brother White House Down I noted approvingly that there is no time wasted getting into the action; within fifteen minutes things are kicking off all Roland Emmerich stylee and the pedal stays floored from there on out, for better or worse. That’s what happens when you’ve got money. When you don’t, you get the same cast that took the job last the time, blow the dust off a spec script that the writer’s lost interest in, and everyone gets on a plane to Bulgaria, god help them.
Spec script, you ask? Surely this is a high concept movie, sequelising a high concept idea. There’s only so far you can get with a beermat, son. Olympus has Fallen was basically Die Hard in the White House, and just like Die Hard, any sequel is a matter of grabbing the main characters and wedging them sideways into anything you can afford to buy off the shelf. At some level, any movie buff knows this is happening; but London has Fallen is one of the worst cases I’ve ever seen. You can still see the wreckage of the original script, in which a treacherous MI6 agent makes a deal with terrorists to let them run riot in London for the day so that he can a) get the UK to take the threat of terror seriously and b) retire rich, and his streetwise colleague has to take him down. Gerard Butler literally stabs his way into the middle of the plot and then explodes his way back out of it before sloping off ten minutes before the end so that the actual main characters can resolve the story as it was written. Because, as he has already demonstrated, you can’t stab a confession out of someone, and the plot required a confession.
It’s been a while since I hate watched something in a cinema, and I’m starting to wonder if I’ve outgrown the idea.