London Has Fallen: An abhorrent movie, fueled by American exceptionalism, testosterone, and xenophobia

I’ll admit, most terrorism/spy/war/national defense movies of the past decade anger me for a dozen or so different reasons, not the least of which is because they frequently draw on Islamophobia, xenophobia, racism, fear-mongering, misogyny, etc. to advance their messages (that sounds rather like a certain political candidate we know, doesn’t it?). But London Has Fallen goes beyond the pale to be exceedingly irksome.

The movie was released earlier this year and stars Gerard Butler as Mike Banning, a Secret Service agent, protecting President Benjamin Asher (played by Aaron Eckhart). It takes place during a massive terror campaign in London waged by Pakistani arms dealer and terrorist ringleader Aamir Barkawi (Alon Moni Aboutboul).  Back in the United States, Vice President Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) runs the White House to try to extract Banning and Asher from the war zone that is now London.

The movie begins with Barkawi’s daughter’s wedding, where an American spy informs the US intelligence community that Barkawi is present at the ceremony (alongside hundreds of innocent civilian wedding guests), leading the US to launch a drone strike against the wedding party to kill Barkawi and his family. Barkawi does not die in the strike, however, and over the next two years begins to plan his revenge and gather recruits. He begins his retributive terror campaign by assassinating the British Prime Minister to force the leaders of the Western world to arrive in London and then proceeds to bomb, shoot, and bludgeon all but President Asher to a most violent death. Asher escapes purely as a result of Banning’s cunning and the foolhardy mistakes of his terrorist adversaries. By the end of the movie, naturally, the Americans live (while the British, French, Italian, Japanese, and numerous other delegations and respective security details all die) and Banning kills Barkawi, single-handedly, bringing down the entire terrorist network.

How I abhor it? Let me count the ways.

First, and this isn’t sociopolitical at all: Gerard Butler’s character is insufferable. He is an unrepentant, pretentious, uber-aggressive, unlikeable jerk face twit of a bossypants, and I could not stand him. He insinuates himself into a leadership position in every situation, insulting and battering his way to the top, even when he has no claim to command. His disagreeableness had me grimacing through most of the movie, although that could also be attributed to almost everything else about it.

Two:  the entire movie is American Exceptionalism at its finest. There is the obvious glorification of America and Americans as better than everyone else when this one secret service agent outsmarts the hundreds of terrorists who, by the way, succeeded in killing every single other protection detail. Gerard Butler alone kills upwards of 40 terrorists by knifing or shooting them and then blows up another 50 plus terrorists, but none of the hundreds of brown terrorists even scratch him. He leaves the entire debacle unscathed. American Exceptionalism also asserts itself in the sense that the scope of the movie narrows from the mass attacks that shake London and the world to merely protecting two Americans, which really goes to show the American disposition about world affairs.

Three, Muslim terrorists AGAIN. I could almost get over this point because I know that’s just how the national psyche works. and radical ISIS-like terrorists sells right now in Hollywood, but in London Has Fallen that devolves into xenophobic blanket statements. Case in point: When Banning screams at Barkawi over the walkie-talkie of Barkawi’s now-tortured and dead son: “Why don’t you go back to Fuck-head-istan or wherever you’re from?!” Allow me to enlighten you, Mr. Banning, no such place as “Fuck-head-istan” exists. I mean there’s Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan… but no “Fuck-head.” How curious. And even if “Fuck-head-istan” did exist, all of the “stan”s are incredibly different from one another, so “wherever you’re from” as a grouping for a wide variety of Central and South Asian countries sounds a bit haphazard and indiscriminate, wouldn’t you say? I will also add that although you continue to refer to Pakistani and “Fuck-head-istani” terrorists as Arab, Central/South Asians are not Arabs.

Also, the “Pakistanis” in the movie aren’t Pakistani, they just used random Brown people. The actor who plays Barkawi, the head antagonist, is Israeli; another is Belgian-Tunisian, French-Tunisian, Indian, etc. Not Pakistani. Actually, they don’t even use Pakistani names or places in the film. That just serves to further the idea that all Brown/Muslim/Arab people are interchangeable and Hollywood. and/or Americans have no need to draw lines of difference between anyone in that very diverse group. Which is reprehensible and obnoxious. Maybe it’s just because they couldn’t find “Fuck-head-istan” on the map.

The idea of making the Brown terrorists faceless semi-humans is furthered by the absolute lack of remorse for the civilians killed in the drone strike in Pakistan. A small modicum of regret shines through when President Asher realizes Barkawi is bent on avenging his family because of an American slaughter. But Banning dissuades Asher of the idea that Asher has any responsibility or should feel any guilt for what is happening, although they both continue to consider the devastation of London a travesty.

Basically, the premise of the film is that Americans bombed innocent civilians in shopping malls and weddings for the sake of killing one target, and Barkawi turns around and does the exact same thing in London. But the Westerners don’t even attempt to understand that senseless retributive violence, preferring to continuously and constantly dismiss it as “insanity.” When Americans do it, it’s justice and national security; when terrorists do it, it’s murder and insane.

Number seven: I can almost understand– almost– the unrepentant, unhesitating murder of every terrorist Banning sees, but there is no regard for the innocent civilian casualties in London either. Which is particularly telling considering that’s what got you in this mess to begin with.

Eight: lack of regard for human life isn’t just an accidental side effect, but a welcomed and encouraged trait fostered in “the good guys.” When one of the main terrorist organizers in London hesitates a moment to behead President Asher live on television, the film paints it as a sign of weakness. When Banning tortures a terrorist he has already shot for the sake of torturing a man and makes his brother listen to the torture, it is a quality of his good character, strength, and adept skills as a Secret Service Agent.

Nine: At the end of the movie, the answer to the problem created by a drone strike is “solved” by a drone strike, when America finally succeeds in bombing Barkawi. Vice President Trumbull announces that “There are those who say that none of this would have happened if we just minded our own business. [They are wrong.] We owe it to our children and grandchildren to engage with the world.” I’m not sure that bombing, slaughtering, and destroying is quite what most people have in mind when they say “engage,” but I’m not a politician, so what do I know?

Finally, this movie is an explosion of testosterone-fueled aggression and most certainly does not pass the Bechdel Test. Although there are two named women in the movie, they never talk to one another because one dies in the first half hour of the film. and the other doesn’t appear until the last half hour of the film.

And so we have a gory, bloody, xenophobic, American-Exceptionalism-fueled, testosterone-laden, misogynistic, bomb-toting, unrepentantly civilian-slaughtering showdown of a film that was awful from beginning to end. Thumbs down.