Action flick London Has Fallen opened this past weekend in the US, only managing to pull in about $22 million against its $60 million budget. The film, a sequel to 2013’s Olympus Has Fallen, features Gerard Butler as the sole super Secret Service agent capable of saving the day from ominous forces. In this case, the evil forces are Islamic terrorists rather than North Koreans.
I’ll admit right now I haven’t seen the film, nor do I intend to. That’s not because it offends my delicate leftist sensibilities—yes, the film appears from the outside to be xenophobic, but I’ll refrain from that criticism since I have no business issuing it—rather, it looks like the kind of dumb action film I wouldn’t enjoy no matter who the hero and villain were.
But there’s something kind of strange about this film, at least if the summaries about it are to be believed. Essentially, the film features as its principle antagonist an Islamic terrorist named Aamir Bakarwi who plans to eliminate slews of Western leaders attending the funeral of the deceased British Prime Minister. The President of the United States is taken hostage by the terrorists, and one-man army Mike Banning must put the world back in order. That alone doesn’t sound strange. But apparently Bakarwi’s motivation in the film for doing this is because his family was killed in a drone strike intended to kill him, meaning his religion has nothing (or at least very little) to do with it. Yes, he was a terrorist before the death of his family, but its revenge, not religious zealotry, that fuels him to do battle with the West.
I bring this up because it seems counter-intuitive. Bakarwi is the bad guy even though his motivation for revenge is understandable—how many action flicks feature a hero whose wife or family get knocked off in the beginning and climax with a rooftop battle wherein the hero fights the murderous villain?—not to mention his family is wiped out by the kind of policies Donald Trump has advocated. (“Take out their families.”) If you’re going to make your villain politically topical while simultaneously reinforcing cultural stereotypes, it seems strange that you’d humanize him. But I guess that’s just Writing 101. Or maybe the film is a parody of action flicks so subtle it slipped passed critics and audiences.
The film bombed. It raked in about $20 million on its opening weekend against a budget of $60 million, so it’ll have to do another $100 million just to break even. Critics have panned it. The consensus at Rotten Tomatoes, where the film holds a 26% ‘fresh’ rating, is that “London Has Fallen traps a talented cast — and all who dare to see it — in a mid-1990s basic-cable nightmare of a film loaded with xenophobia and threadbare action-thriller clichés.” That’s basically what I thought when I saw the trailer, but I also thought it might appeal to audiences, particularly those who think Islamic terrorists really are a threat in their everyday lives:
But then again, other right-wing fantasy flicks like Michael Bay’s 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi didn’t do too well, either. It’s hard to tell if flicks like this underperform just because they’re bad or because the overtly political messages they broadcast really aren’t all that popular.