In “London Has Fallen,” Gerard Butler trades in the swords and knives of last week’s “Gods of Egypt” for a variety of automatics, explosives, and newer knives. Whether audiences really need, or want, or deserve two new Butler offerings in consecutive weeks is a question that must go unanswered until the opening weekend numbers are in. Perhaps there are moviegoers who simply can’t get enough of him, but for some of us — by which, of course, I mean me — enough is already too much.
2013’s “Olympus Has Fallen” featured terrorists taking over the White House and destroying much of Washington, D.C., with Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Butler) having to rescue President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) while preventing nuclear catastrophe. Some days are just like that. In the new sequel “London Has Fallen,” terrorists destroy much of London, and Banning has to rescue the Prez while preventing nuclear catastrophe. Hmm.
Yes, this is one of those sequels that is essentially a remake, with various details changed to give the illusion of freshness. Instead of Korean terrorists, we get a family of Pakistani arms dealers who just moonlight as terrorists. Once again, events are set up with an opening sequence set a year or two before the rest of the film, as a U.S. drone targeting weapons magnate Aamir Barkawi (Alon Aboutboul) manages to miss both him and his sons.
Unfortunately, the drone’s human controllers have neglected to ascertain if the target might instead be, say, Barkawi’s daughter’s wedding. Most of the other celebrants are wiped out, in a plot development presumably inspired by a 2008 incident in Afghanistan, or perhaps a”Homeland” plot twist from two seasons ago.
The patriarch has taught his sons that “vengeance must always be profound and absolute,” and now he can show them how in a real, live field operation. This setup suggests a very different political position from “Olympus”: The Korean terrorists were portrayed as merely mean and crazy, but these Pakistanis have an undeniable grievance. Still, an argument can be made that they overreact a bit, as they cook up a fantastically complicated series of actions that both destroy most of modern civilization and drum up a little business.
The plot kicks in when the British Prime Minister dies — not, we later learn, a coincidence — so nearly all world leaders have to show up for the funeral. With such short notice, of course, their security people can’t be as thorough as they would like. Not only do the bad guys attack the funeral; they also destroy most of London’s iconic structures, including London Bridge, Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, and other old favorites. Suddenly, chaos looms, as nearly all the major nations are suddenly without their leaders.
Except for President Asher, of course, who has Mike Banning looking after him. Much of the film involves Banning and Asher on the run from what appears to be a terrorist force of seemingly thousands; Banning alone appears to dispatch hundreds of them.
Agent Banning is the latest in a long line of heroes whose every bullet kills someone — even as he spins, leaps, or shoots in two directions at once — while the bad guys constantly spray him with hundreds of bullets from machine guns, none of which seem to hit the target. If you can’t suspend that level of disbelief for an hour and a half, “London Has Fallen” will not be your cup of Earl Grey. You’ll also have to suppress any curiosity about how the bad guys have planned and mounted an operation of this size in the middle of London without a single intelligence leak.
Iranian-born director Babak Najafi (“Sebbe”) and the four credited screenwriters — the returning Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benedikt, plus Christian Gudegast (“A Man Apart”) and Chad St. John — make things move fast enough to keep you awake, but not fast enough to finesse its plot absurdities past an alert viewer’s mind.
And then there’s the Gerard Butler problem. He’s in full-on Growl Mode here, as he has been in almost everything else he’s done, even the occasional romantic comedy. The very sight of him triggers memories of “300” and expectations that at any minute he may yell, “This is Sparta!” He forever owns the role of Leonidas, but not as much as Leonidas owns him.