For some reason, movies in which the President of the United States finds himself alone in a hostile environment, with one protector, surrounded by terrorists, turn out to be terrible. Like, for example, the movie we’re going to talk about today, kids: London Has Fallen. It is kaka poo-poo bad. It’s also not entirely uninteresting, and may be even, like, historic. Plus, it helps explain Donald Trump. Let me unpack.
A few weeks ago, I reviewed Big Game, a Finnish film with President Samuel L. Jackson, protected by a Finnish kid. It was one of those movies that was so bad it was kind of fun. London Has Fallen is just as bad–more technically proficient, much stupider story. Aaron Eckhart plays President Benjamin Asher, who barely survived the last terrorist attack, on the White House, in the inexplicably popular Olympus Has Fallen, to which this movie is the sequel. As in Olympus, POTUS is guarded by Secret Service Superman, Mike Banning (Gerard Butler). Banning is also married, and his wife (Radha Mitchell) is pregnant. So it has Family Values, see?
Anyway, the Prime Minister of England dies, and President Asher has to go to the funeral, along with many many other World Leaders, and Banning is in charge of, and worried about, security. So are the Brits, of course, and we get lots of tense conference room scenes where security people Express Concern. But, whaddya gonna do, not bury the guy? So AF1 lands, a motorcade is formed, dignitaries gather. And then all hell breaks loose.
We’re supposed to believe that one terrorist mastermind (angry over a drone strike that took out his daughter), has succeeded in suborning essentially all British security forces. Including the Queen’s Guard–the guys with the bearskin hats. Uh, those guys are really, really vetted. But whatever. They just suddenly start shooting people.
Thank heavens, Mike Banning (our hero) is there! To kill maybe fifty people. But they’re all bad guys, so who cares.
The rest of the movie is basically about killing terrorists and freeing POTUS, who at one point gets himself captured. It’s impossibly stupid, especially when Banning gets the stupendous idea of full-frontal attacking the terrorist stronghold, where the assault team he heads is outnumbered, like, 200 to 20. But the bad guys can’t shoot straight, so there’s that. Plus Banning never misses. It’s too stupid for words.
But this is also what’s interesting. Much of it’s essentially not a movie at all, but a FPS video game; visually, it’s like watching someone play Call of Duty or Counterstrike. Lots of critics panned it, as indeed they should have done (it got 26% on Rottentomatoes, a score 25 points too high), but no one pointed out how visually innovative it is. Indeed, it got dinged for ‘bad CGI’, which misses the point. It’s not a movie; its a video game, or more accurately, a weird combination of the two. Not based on a video game, narratively, like Warcraft. I mean, maybe fifteen minutes of this thing is given to watching a first person shooter mow down hundreds of terrorists. And then cut to, you know, the movie; plot and acting and so on. (At one point, the President questions the wisdom in directly attacking a terrorist center, and Banning says grimly ‘we have no choice.’ The goal is to preserve the President. They’re in London, one of the world’s most populated cities. They have literally hundreds of thousands of buildings they could hide in. No choice? I really did laugh out loud).
I wish I could show you a different clip. The one above doesn’t capture it very well. Really, Banning is breaking into this heavily guarded building, and he does it by just shooting tons of baddies. With a handgun, mostly. (He does occasionally pause to reload, like you have to in an FPS). But it’s exactly like watching someone else play a combat-type game (my son, say). Bad guys pop up, you hit ’em, then more bad guys pop up and you hit them. Then on to another room, and continue.
Now, although the numbers are preposterous, it’s maybe barely plausible, if you could somehow overcome the logistical difficulties in, like, magically transporting all of ISIS to central London and giving them police identities and uniforms. But that’s not the choice this silly movie makes. And you’re not going to convert hundreds of lifetime British security people into terrorists, so they can happily die for the glory of jihad. The central premise of this movie is preposterous. Which is fine for a video game. And not really the end of the world for a bad action movie. What it isn’t is true. The movie is built on the premise that terrorism is a real, actual, huge, current threat. And that’s not the case.
In fact, the actual factual terrorist danger is overstated by a factor of, oh, a billion. You’re more likely to drown in your bathtub than to be killed by terrorists. You’re more likely to die when your car hits a deer. You’re more likely to be killed by a brain-eating parasite. You’re more likely to be killed by a vending machine falling on you.
Cue the Donald. Because, let’s face it, one of the major party Presidential candidates in this race has built his campaign, quite explicitly, on fear. We’re supposed to be afraid, very afraid. Bad guys are trying to kill us; Big Daddy President Man will keep us safe, as long as it’s a man. (The job is too tough for women, he consistently implies). A movie like this one feeds that narrative. As, probably, do FPS video games, if anyone was lame enough to take them seriously in a political sense.
In fact, every gamer I know is perfectly aware that he or she is playing a game, that it’s not real, that it’s just for fun. And frankly, I don’t think many people are naive enough to think that a dumb movie like this one represents, you know reality. But movies are taken more seriously than games, and this movie is the first one to blend the two so clearly. I’m not saying this movie is likely to have any political impact in this election. But to the extent that we do fear terrorists–and we do, irrationally and disproportionately to their actual threat–this movie feeds that fear. I’m not saying it shouldn’t have been made. And if any of you are gamers, I would appreciate it if you’d watch it and comment. But not all bad movies are created equal. And this one is worse than most, for zeitgeist-y reasons it had no real role in creating.
But I do have to ask this: when Donald Trump says he has ‘a secret plan’ to take out ISIS, is this what he’s referring to? When he says he knows more than his generals (most of which he seems to think he can fire, like so many celebrity apprentices), has he had a FPS-style Dream? Does he imagine himself in full battle gear, mowing down ISIS? ‘Cause I sure have. And then I wake up.