“Same sh*te, different country” basically sums up London Has Fallen, the much unanticipated sequel to 2013’s semi-surprise hit, Olympus Has Fallen. A xenophobic, ultra-right-wing reactionary’s wet dream, Olympus Has Fallen featured Gerard Butler as a Secret Service agent who saves the U.S. president, the country, and even the day when North Korean terrorists forcibly take over the White House, holding the president and his staff hostage. Butler’s ruthlessly efficient character, dispatched the irredeemably evil terrorists via an impressive assortment of gratuitous headshots and knifings to the thorax and head (among other body parts). Unsubtle, reductive, and ultra-violent, Olympus Has Fallen satiated the fear- and anxiety-driven needs of right-leaning, escapism-seeking moviegoers eager to embrace a film where the U.S. president was, once again, the embodiment of white male privilege (not to mention Caucasian pride). But that was three years and this is 2016, an election year where a multiply bankrupt, thrice-married billionaire reality-TV show can run for the nomination of one of the two major political parties and quite possibly win. In short, it’s the near-perfect time for London Has Fallen to arrive in multiplexes across these (Dis) United States.
After saving the president, Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart), not to mention Western democracy from the non-Caucasian evils of the world in the first film, Mike Banning (Butler) still has the prime spot as Asher’s No. 1 Secret Service agent and jogging buddy at work and comfortable, if comfortably numb, domesticity at home. He’s all set to resign from his post and become a dutiful, obliging house husband to his pregnant wife, Leah (Radha Mitchell) when the sudden, unexpected, but definitely natural death of the British PM forces him back into service for one last detail. The PM’s relatively high position in the international pecking order among politicians means the UK will be flooded with world leaders, 40 in total, along with their security details, in just a handful of days. While Banning balks at the lack of prep time, political expediency wins the day and Banning joins Asher along with Lynne Jacobs (Angela Bassett), his boss, and a small detail of mostly faceless, most definitely expendable secret service agents.
The president’s detail barely makes it to Westminster Abbey for the British PM’s funeral when a massive, extremely well-coordinated, well-funded, simultaneous terrorist attack derails the funeral. In short order, most of Western Europe’s leaders lose their lives, leaving Asher as the sole survivor and major target for the terrorist group (more like an army) organized and led by Aamir Barkawi (Alon Aboutboul), a revenge-minded, super-wealthy arms dealer. He’s Middle Eastern, of course, but his motivations (greed and revenge) aren’t what could be described as openly ideological. He’s not an Islamic extremist, though his eldest son, Kamran (Waleed Zuaiter), uses the tools (e.g., public executions) currently associated with any number of Middle Eastern terrorist groups, specifically ISIS (or DAESH, to be slightly more correct naming convention wise). The Barkawi clan wants payback for a drone strike that left members of their family dead. Not surprisingly, London Has Fallen fully embraces drone warfare even as it pays lip service in the final moments to the avoidance of civilian casualties (“collateral damage” by another, deeply offensive euphemism).
Sidestepping ideological extremism is, at least on the surface, a smart move, deflecting and/or possibly defusing any objections Muslim communities in Western countries might make to London Has Fallen’s politics. Of course, it doesn’t. Brown people are, once again, evil, motivated by barbaric, primitive instincts, practically non-human or, at best, secondarily human, unfit to live with or among Western (read: White) communities. The organized terrorist attack at the center of London Has Fallen more than suggests that Muslim communities are rife with terrorists and their enablers. Given the scale and scope of the attack, an attack involving several hundred (or more) attackers, each one apparently trained and somehow imported into the UK without the UK’s security apparatus knowing or finding out, it’s difficult, if not impossible to conclude London Has Fallen’s central message is a simple one: Fear brown people, especially brown people from Middle Eastern countries. Don’t let them into your country out of a misguided, misplaced sense of charity, compassion, or humanitarianism. If you do, they’ll blow up your country and cause untold pain, misery, and grief to innocent Westerners.
Then again, Olympus Has Fallen practically had the same message: Just swap out the North Korean “others” with Middle Eastern “others” and you’re good to go. Given the brutality and barbarism of the terrorists in both films, Banning’s asymmetrical response makes all the more sense: Answer barbarism and brutality with barbarism and brutality of your own. Just make sure you win and they don’t (i.e., “by any means necessary”). As repugnant and repellent a message as that might be – and there should be little doubt that it’s firmly both – London Has Fallen’s action scenes are just as sub-par and mediocre, the result of unfinished, under-rendered visual effects and a limited budget. That’s not likely to stop fans of Olympus Has Fallen from stumbling into their local multiplex this weekend to catch the sequel, but it’s one among many reasons why it should be.