London Has Fallen keeps audience engaged

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3 out of 4 stars

It could happen.

A sudden, international event causes the U.S. president and other heads of state to convene, the planet’s most powerful politicians in one place at the same time, with little time to implement a security plan.

Remember the more than 40 world leaders who marched, arm in arm as a sign of solidarity, through the streets of Paris following the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January 2015? What happens if terrorists, hiding among the crowd of 1.6 million who were mourning the deaths of 17, opened fire?

Gerard Butler returns as Secret Service agent Mike Banning to save the day in London Has Fallen. (YouTube)
Gerard Butler returns as Secret Service agent Mike Banning to save the day in London Has Fallen. (YouTube)

This scenario is what makes London Has Fallen, the sequel to the 2013 hit Olympus Has Fallen, so intriguing.

“Given the state of the world today and the threat of terrorism that exists for real, we were constantly aware that something similar to what we were filming could happen – though we all pray it never does,” Aaron Eckhart, who plays U.S. President Benjamin Asher, told the Chicago Sun-Times. “But then, filmmaking is a mirror of our times.”

London Has Fallen‘s plot is as simple as its predecessor, in which terrorists took down the White House and kidnapped the president.

This time, President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) flies, along with many of the world’s leaders, to the British capital to attend the funeral of Britain’s prime minister. It doesn’t take long for the funeral to turn into a war zone as terrorists seek to kill Asher in front of a worldwide audience. Eckhart again turns to his favorite Secret Service agent and personal bodyguard Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) to save the

It makes you think: could this — a world leader killed by terrorist on foreign soil — really happen? Yes. Perhaps there wouldn’t be more explosions than the Fourth of July during the ordeal like there are in London Has Fallen, would strategies to save leaders be scrutinized and second-guessed? Would pandemonium ensue when bullets start flying?

Think about it.

Aaron Eckhart returns as U.S. President Benjamin Asher in London Has Fallen. (Gramercy)
Aaron Eckhart returns as U.S. President Benjamin Asher in London Has Fallen. (Gramercy)

Eckhart, Butler, Morgan Freeman (Vice President Allan Trumbull), Angela Bassett (Secret Service Director Lynne Jacobs), Melissa Leo (Defense Secretary Ruth McMillan) and Robert Forster (Gen. Edward Clegg) all return for the sequel, as do screenwriters Katrin Benedikt and Creighton Rothenberger.

The only major change is in the director’s chair, where Babak Najafi takes over for Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer, Shooter). Fuqua’s deft storytelling and character development were a major reason Olympus Has Fallen stormed to more than $161 million at the worldwide box office.

Najafi uses a similar approach, but there’s only so much he can do considering the only difference between the films is they are set on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean. But Najafi, a relative unknown in the movie world, doesn’t drown. He plays to the movie’s strength — its A-list cast — to keep viewers engaged.

Eckhart and Butler provide the good looks; Freeman can keep an audience engaged by reading a grocery list; and Bassett’s portrayal as the head of the Secret Service shows women can carry a role that for decades had been given to men.

At just an hour and 40 minutes, London Has Fallen moves quickly, as Najafi doesn’t waste time.

Terrorists attack.

Explosions detonate.

Guns fire.

People die.

Most importantly, the audience never has time to be bored.

“We can’t possibly relate to being president, because we have no idea of what that would really be like — especially on a 24/7 basis for four years or eight years,” Eckhart said. “But we do have an idea of what it’s like to be part of a family or to be in danger, or have a family member be in danger. However you can personalize yourself to the audience, I think that adds emotional depth to any film.”