10 Big Questions Left Unanswered By London Has Fallen

By  · Published on March 4th, 2016

London Has Fallen is not a movie worth thinking about. It’s not that it’s not good enough. It’s that it’s not that kind of movie. It’s a mindless action genre throwback. But I’m going to overthink this Olympus Has Fallen sequel anyway. Why? Because it is mindless movies in particular that offer me so little substance that my mind can’t help but wander and contemplate and attempt to engage with the material anyway. Of course, it’s still usually for nothing. All I’m left with is a bunch of open questions and no kind of response from the nonsense on screen. Here are those questions, though, in case anyone else wants to play along:

1. Did the Events of Olympus Has Fallen Actually Happen?

I’d like to start off with a question raised by our friend Dan Schindel in his review at The Film Stage, because it’s a perfect preliminary issue. He writes that the sequel “eschews any acknowledgment of the first film at all. When briefly seen, the White House looks no worse for wear after its ransacking three years past. One character ominously declares that the world is falling apart due to the lack of governmental vigilance, while another affirms the need for American interventionism abroad. An attack on the White House by North Korean terrorists somehow did not result in a worldwide police state, and the film’s message is that perhaps it should have.” Well, obviously the White House just had a great, fast repair job and, well, it would take too much thought for the screenwriters to consider how the world might have changed following what happens in Olympus Has Fallen.

2. Did British Intelligence Really Not Know They Were Bombing a Wedding?

London Has Fallen is one of those movies where the terrorist kind of has a good point about the evils of the “good guys” – not that it’s justifiable reason for a massive attack on a major city and a multiple world leader assassination plot, but you can understand why the villainous arms dealer, Barkawi (Waleed Zuaiter), wants revenge for a drone killing his daughter on her wedding day, as well as other presumed innocent revelers. He’s told there was no knowledge that they were bombing Barkawi’s compound on such a festive occasion, but why not? Is it normal for MI6 to just report where a target is and not offer any other context? What if he was in a children’s hospital full of orphaned babies? I think they did know they were killing innocents and did not care.

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3. Did Barkawi’s Revenge Plot Need to Be So Extensive?

The attack on London and the multiple world leaders arriving in the city for a state funeral was very well-planned. It took years and involved hundreds of men, ultimately many who apparently had to go undercover and pose as police and military and presumably pass security checks, plus the convincing of one man in particular to commit treason to assist in a major way. His fee alone, not to mention everything else, also made this a very costly effort. Sure, it’s mostly effective. Nearly all the targeted leaders are killed. Much of London, especially its landmarks, are heavily damaged if not destroyed. Still, you have to wonder if any of it couldn’t have been done differently, more simply. Barkawi could have attacked London without the need for the whole scheme involving the Prime Minister’s death and wrangling of international leaders, and it might have been easier due to less-heightened security, while the assassinations also could have just been done anytime, anywhere. Okay, I guess I shouldn’t be explaining how a terrorist plot should be done “better,” but even for terrorism this seemed like overkill.

4. Is a Terrorist’s Head Stronger Than a Bullet?

Following the extensive attack, Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), Secret Service Director Lynne Jacobs (Angela Bassett) and President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) escape in an SUV that apparently has bulletproof windows. I forget if they said that was the case, but bullets are definitely seen hitting but not smashing the vehicle’s side and back windows, as they would on a normal SUV. But when a motorcycling terrorist plows into the back of the auto, his head crashes right through the glass. I’m not saying that his head is stronger than a bullet, really, but I guess his helmet is.

5. Why Do the Explosions Look So Terrible?

Let me take a moment, a minor interlude, for a non-plot-related question. This is a major theatrical motion picture and a sequel to a legitimate hit and is likely to also be a profitable release. So why does it have CG explosion effects (and fire and water) that are barely good enough for a Sharknado sequel? For such a gritty and primarily physical movie, in terms of its very intimate violence, the bad computer effects are especially jarring and fake-looking. The first one, following a lengthy lead up to the attacks, is particularly laughable because of how cartoonish it looks after such a serious escalation of suspense.

6. Why Does Banning Keep Throwing the President Blindly Out Into the Open?

I’m no expert on how the Secret Service does its job of protecting the POTUS, especially in situations where only one agent is left to fill the task, but while Banning is great at keeping Asher alive in many ways that appear strategically logical, there are a few instances where his decisions could clearly have been mistakes. There are a number of times when Banning leaves the POTUS alone or tells him to go ahead somewhere or otherwise leaves him very vulnerable to attack. The most questionable moment is when he has Asher exit a downed helicopter into an open field he hasn’t checked out while he has a heartfelt goodbye with his dying boss/friend/would-be-godmother. What if there were terrorists already on site or even just nearby and armed with more missile launchers?

7. Why Is the British Army Taking Orders From a Secret Service Agent?

Too often in these kinds of movies, including the best one (Die Hard), the one-man army hero has to deal with the extra obstacle of an official authority in charge telling him to stand down or at least just take orders from him/them. In London Has Fallen, though, a guy leading British soldiers through the city streets against the terrorists tells Banning he’s in charge but then very quickly puts himself and his men under the leadership of the Secret Service agent from another country who has no real jurisdiction or power other than to keep the POTUS safe. Sure, they make the right choice, and maybe they’ve heard of Banning if the events of Olympus Has Fallen did indeed happen, but still.

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8. What is the Message of This Movie Regarding Drone Warfare?

As Schindel wrote, perhaps the overall message of the movie, if there is one, is that the world should have become a police state following the White House attack. But there also seems to be a statement being made about drone warfare. The drone at the beginning of the movie fails to be precise enough to kill its target, while instead taking out innocent people, and throughout the movie we see that the most effective action (both narratively and with regards to how it looks compared to the CG explosions) is very close-range combat involving stabbing and head shots. And Banning also tells one terrorist, ironically after proving himself a one-man army type action hero, that America isn’t about just one person fighting (that’d include a drone operator) but a whole bunch of people (including all those little-used famous Oscar-nominated faces back in the Washington scenes). That seems to support a heavily manned military rather than simple, far-removed remote-control efforts. But then the movie still ends with another attempt to off Barkawi with a drone attack.

9. Is Barkawai Still Alive?

With movies like London Has Fallen, you can’t just show a drone strike on a building where the big bad is and not show the big bad’s death. Actually, these days the hero does tend to show up in person at the end to kill the villain personally (see the Taken movies and The Equalizer). London Has Fallen is also a stupid enough movie that it might as well go the Hots Shots! route and show a bomb making direct contact with the bad guy. Maybe it’s not intentionally that silly, but if it didn’t take itself so seriously perhaps that would be a great way for the movie to end, essentially saying, “Yeah, this movie you just watched is totally ridiculous.” I doubt we’re supposed to think Barkawi may have escaped death again while all those guards and more innocents on the street were killed, because it’s not like he’s interesting enough to be brought back for part three.

NEXT: Could Terrorists Really Take Over the White House?

10. Did the Filmmakers Mean to Remake Escape from New York?

Let’s end with another question for the filmmakers. Midway into London Has Fallen, the movie starts to look like a remake of John Carpenter’s Escape from New York, except now it’s Escape from London. The UK capital hasn’t been turned into a prison, but it is a war zone and the streets are abandoned, with the people ordered to stay inside (I’m still surprised how empty the city winds up being). And of course it does involve a guy (played by Butler, who interestingly enough was linked to a legitimate Escape from New York remake) trying to get a POTUS out of this dangerous place. I’d say it resembles the 1981 sci-fi classic as much as Lookout does, and Carpenter successfully sued that production. So the makers behind London Has Fallen may want to watch out.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.