I just watched “London Has Fallen”
and I feel a bit sick
“London Has Fallen” isn’t just your typical Hollywood display of grandeur, even though it’s star-cast, catchy one-liners, easy to grasp good vs. evil narrative and of course, many explosions might lead you to believe so. After having spent years of getting standard American action-movies crammed down our throats, we don’t even blink an eye when countless civilian lives are lost, when our G.I.-Joe type hero manages to take on a team of 100 enemies with his bare hands and when the black friend is the first to croak.
But “London Has Fallen” does stand out, and for all the wrong reasons.
The 60 million dollar budget movie tells the tale of how 40 heads of state are lured into London to attend the funeral of the British prime minister. We are treated to some characters not so vaguely resembling actual heads of state: Berlusconi with his young gorgeous lover on a rooftop is a cute touch. Suddenly, cars, boats and buildings start blowing up. Bobbies, ambulance drivers and even the Queens’s Guards pull rifles and start firing into the crowds. London is hit by the single-best synchronised terrorist attack in the history of the world and all heads of state get killed. Except for one: The president of the good old US of A.
This should make any viewer raise an eyebrow: There are hundreds of incredibly well-trained (Ninja-) terrorists at work. They are armed to the teeth, have successfully infiltrated the police and military, have all sorts of cool vehicles at their disposal and yet they fail at their number one mission: apprehend the US president. But this is quickly explained, when we realise who is on the presidents side. Mike Banning, played by Gerard Butler, is the epitome of raw American super-heroism (and also a tad bit of homophobia when jokingly asking the president whether he has come out of the closet yet. What a fun jab). He only falls short by an inch of shouting “Murica!” and tossing on a red cape before taking off vertically.
He is both Jack Bauer on steroids — when he chooses not to shoot the “evilest” terrorist of the film but pistol-whip him to death in stead — and John McClane — when he grabs a hold of a walkie talkie and mocks his terrorist adversaries who clearly have him outnumbered. The latter particularly horrific scene celebrates Banning as a sadistic psychopath who enjoys making a man (sorry: terrorist!) scream by slowly pushing a knife into him and making sure his brother (sorry again, terrorist!) can hear him squealing over the walkie-talkie. The President seems to have something resembling a moral compass when he asks whether that was necessary, to which Banning indifferently replies “no”. What a cowboy.
Mike Banning continues to show the vocabulary, fine humor and cultural sensitivity of an angry hick with quotes like, and I kid you not: “Get back to Fuckheadistan or wherever is it you’re from” and “Assholes like you, have been trying to kill us for a long fucking time. But you know what? A thousand years from now, we’ll still fucking be here.”
The Vice-President — played by Morgan Freeman, who must have lost either a bet or his mind — states things a little more eloquently, when he says: “To those who threaten our freedom: America will rise up. And make no mistake, we will find you and we will destroy you.” This threat is eerily similar to the one uttered by Gaddafi to the rebels in Benghazi before the West intervened to “prevent a genocide”, except of course for the fact that Gaddafi actually promised mercy to rebels who would drop their weapons.
Things seem to look up when some attention is payed to the detrimental effect of Obama’s counter-terrorism strategy: It turns out that Aamir Barkawi, the leader of the organization responsible for the attacks, lost his family in a drone strike that was targeting him. Perhaps this could be a chance to discuss the radicalizing effect of aerial campaigns, how the indiscriminate large-scale killings lead to similar large-scale terror-attacks, how the word “collateral damage” only distracts from the fact that people are dying — be they soldiers or civilians -, how home-grown “DIY” terrorism is on the rise and how terror-attacks have increased 39% in 2014 over the previous year, the number of deaths caused by such attacks rose by 83%. I invite you to read my piece on this failing counter-terrorism strategy here.
But no. Surprisingly little attention is payed to the “evil” mastermind Barkawi’’s background and how he came to the point of turning to extremism. It’s only in the last scene that we come full circle and witness a phone conversation between the Vice President and Barkawi, during which Barkawi is gloatingly told to “look out his window” to see a predator drone approaching. The scene is tastefully accompanied by oriental sounding music.
For the sake of entertainment I am happy to swallow soppy moments with dying words like “Promise me you’ll get those fuckers”, the fact that the President all of the sudden has no problem wielding a gun, the fact that it seems that Mike Banner is truly the only agent on the streets willing or able to save the president (even when he finds a helpful Scotsman, this soldier waits outside for Mike to do the dirty work). Of course I do not expect realism from my Hollywood blockbusters — even though I would love to see Claire Danes train, arm and fund sectarian militias in Syria in the next season of Homeland -, but it’s not the high level of incredibility that I take issue with. It’s the fact that this movie is an undistorted piece of propaganda based on an entirely wrong and extremely dangerous view of American foreign policy and the world in general.
Freedom of speech and art are highly important values that we absolutely must protect. I am not saying we should forbid movies like this piece of smut to be created. I am saying that those involved should be ashamed of themselves and I hope that the overall negative reviews to the movie show that the public agrees. I hope that everyone sitting through this American rampage feels at least a little bit sick to their stomach and that nobody has even a grain of respect, let alone idealises, the movie’s hero.
Because “London Has Fallen” is generally dismissed as an example of American self-righteous heroism: Hard to stomach, but still a species of the genus heroism. And therein lies a danger. It should be made clear, that this movie has absolutely nothing to do with heroism, and everything to do with xenophobia and islamophobia. With sadism, blood thirst and vengeance. It is about the delusions of a violent patriot with an entirely false sense of self and zero capacity for empathy.
But oh well, at least he’s loyal to the stars and stripes.