I don’t think I’ve ever walked out of a movie theater feeling quite so upset as I was after London Has Fallen. I’ve seen a lot of terrible movies, particularly since I started writing criticism, and I have seen many instances of racism, jingoism, and bigotry put to the big screen, yet I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so offended as when I saw London Has Fallen. This movie is not only poorly made and an affront to the power of modern cinema, it is the most overtly prejudicial film I think I’ve seen from the last decade, if not longer. This is the kind of film that makes the United States look bad to the rest of the world and reaffirms our negative international perception as a blindly hateful and xenophobic people.
A sequel to the problematic yet dull Olympus Has Fallen, London Has Fallen picks up with the death of the British prime minister, so that all the leaders of the Western world must attend his funeral. Terrorists attack, killing every world leader except for the American president (a painfully inept Aaron Eckhart), thanks to his trusty secret service agent Mike (Gerard Butler). The two spend the next hour running around a ruined London as Mike mows down bad guys in his wake. And by mow down bad guys, I mean that Mike indiscriminately kills brown people. The film constantly signals to us as the audience that the villains, often disguised as police officers, are the people of Middle Eastern descent, either through focus or musical cues. And there’s no stopping to question whether Mike is killing the right people or not; if they are brown and possibly in police uniform, they are going to be shot.
Not that it’s easy to tell who Mike is killing at any given moment. With the exception of one decently executed chase scene, the action of this film is nearly incomprehensible. We often see Mike shoot off-screen, and there are intermittent cuts to people falling over from gunshots, but the relation between the two is nebulous at best. A ridiculous number of knife fights are also blurry, unfocused cinematographic messes, and these are probably the worst moments of the film because they demonstrate Mike’s sociopathy. Oh yeah, it isn’t enough that Mike kills brown people, but he has to revel in it, torturing them with stab wounds even after they give him the information we wants. He asks if they are from "Fuckheadistan" and monologues about how the Western world will still be standing in a thousand years as he beats in the skull of his latest catch. He’s a terrifying protagonist during these moments, and to call it uncomfortable is an understatement.
As horrible as much of this is, the film could have mitigated it by being at least somewhat self-aware of the ridiculousness of its premise or the blatant issues of its portrayal of a bloodthirsty American protagonist on an international stage. No such luck. Every bit of violence is played straight, as if this is a scenario that could actually happen and Mike is a realistic American hero. The closest the film comes to having a sense of humor is that Mike says the word “fuck” to an asininely childish degree, often punctuating “jokes” with the word in the hopes that the audience with mistake it for something funny. The only time a joke was actually constructed, punch line and all, was an oddly misplaced “call the president gay” gag that not only wasn’t funny, but also didn’t even make sense given the context or the tone of the scene. Action movies don't necessarily need great writing, but the rules of comedy need to at least be respected.
Now, I won’t go on to say that London Has Fallen is the worst film I’ve ever seen, since this is patently untrue, but it is one of the most tone-deaf and embarrassing pieces of cinema to represent American ideals. That alone, though, wouldn’t have led me to leave the theater in such a disturbed state. The people in the theater with me loved it. There were claps, cheers, and laughs at extremely inappropriate moments, and I had a real taste of being surrounded by people who scared me. This is a film that revels in the indiscriminate killing of people of Middle Eastern descent without a trace of irony, and if the theater I was in is any indication, this film’s box office returns will be at least somewhat successful. I sincerely hope I’m wrong.