Not bloody likely

“Say uncle.”

“Say uncle.”

Rated 2.0

One pitfall of making a sequel to a guilty pleasure movie is the danger of doubling down on the guilt while walking us back from whatever pleasure the original offered. London Has Fallen does exactly that, with fists flailing.

In 2013’s Olympus Has Fallen, Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), exiled to a desk job after saving the life of President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) at the expense of the First Lady’s, redeemed himself by being Johnny-on-the-spot when North Korean terrorists invaded the White House and kidnapped the president. The script by Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt was chock full of nuts, but director Antoine Fuqua hammered the action out with a certain amount of style, and Butler’s steely-eyed Bruce Willis act held our interest.

Now it’s two years later, and Banning is back in the president’s protection detail, ready for action when a trip to London for the funeral of the British prime minister degenerates into a terrorist battle that leaves Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, Chelsea Bridge and other landmarks in ruins, and several world leaders dead. This last point is a little unclear in all the mayhem, but we catch fleeting glimpses of bigwigs from Germany, France, Japan and Italy getting their tickets punched in elaborate fashion, like teenagers in the latest Final Destination sequel.

We can’t exactly count them because they don’t exactly count; the real prize here is President Asher, whom the terrorist army intend to take alive so they can kill him on live TV.

Behind it all is a Pakistani arms dealer named Barkawi (Alon Aboutboul), still mad at the West for a drone strike that missed him but killed his daughter at her wedding two years ago—just about the time Banning was cleaning the clocks of those North Korean gate-crashers. Couldn’t Barkawi have guessed? Surely that was in all the papers, even in Pakistan. Barkawi may have suborned huge swaths of British Intelligence, the London Metropolitan Police and the guards at Buckingham Palace to join his assault team, but did he really think he’d be a match for Mike Banning? The man didn’t do his homework.

A sequel to Olympus Has Fallen was inevitable, but either Antoine Fuqua decided not to press his luck or the sequel’s 20 producers (including star Butler) opted to look elsewhere—the director this time is Tehran-born Babak Najafi, making his English-language debut after a promising start in his adopted home of Sweden. Najafi doesn’t try to match Fuqua’s flair for gritty street-level realism—or maybe he did and couldn’t manage it. Either way, London Has Fallen slides quickly into a sort of sadistic monotony and narrative confusion. When Barkawi’s mole in British security is finally unmasked, we’re not even clear on who it is. Wait a minute—who was that one again?

Several overqualified and underused actors from Olympus return to knit their brows over this latest crisis—Vice President Morgan Freeman, Secret Service Director Angela Bassett, General Robert Forster, etc. At least one of them won’t be back when Mike Banning sees the next city fall. But never mind who. That would be telling.