London Has Fallen (2016), a sequel to the 2013 Olympus Has Fallen, is little more than a tribute to the Good American/Bad Arab dichotomy that plagued the 90s.
Amir Barkawi is an arms dealer who funds terrorist attacks to drive up weapons sales. That he is never explicitly described as Arab does little to hide the overt narrative of this film, that its American characters – President Benjamin Asher (played by Aaron Eckhart), and his bodyguard, Mike Banning (played by Gerard Butler) are inherently good, family oriented people, who are forced to fight to defend themselves, whereas Amir Barkawi, his sons and his endless, faceless cache of Arabs are, by their very nature, bloodthirsty.
When Amir Barkawi arranges the killing of a traitor, he instructs his henchmen to kill the traitor’s family too, because “Vengeance must always be profound and absolute.” Steady on, Jafar. It’s a lyrical line, but it doesn’t actually mean anything. What is a profound vengeance; how can it be absolute? It’ can’t, because nobody actually speaks like this. Well, nobody except fictional Arab villains, most commonly when written by white people.
It is a misrepresentation that is necessary for the Americans to be heroes in this movie. They bomb a wedding, residential areas, kill scores of civilians, but none of this is considered morally reprehensible, because Barkawi is worse – he enjoys killing. Presidential bodyguard, Mike Banning, however, is expecting a baby; he’s designing a nursery and considering leaving his job. Didn’t you know that only heroes have babies?
As global leaders arrive in England for the British Prime Minister’s funeral, London and, more importantly, the US President come under attack. Out of the woodwork, Amir Barkawi’s moles turn on Britain – they are the royal palace guards, the policemen, the paramedics. They attack foreign leaders without hesitation, on land, rivers and bridges. A brown-skinned policeman attaches a bomb to the Canadian president’s car.
Because the Muslim/Arab/terrorist threat is everywhere. We’re a faceless, motiveless mass that you can never trust, even when we’re there to help and protect you.
That Iranian-Swede, Babak Najafi, directed London Has Fallen, is more tokenism than consolation, and he must join the long list of non-Middle Eastern writers and producers, including Gerard Butler himself in taking responsibility for this damaging work of racism.
It is when Mike Banning launches a mission to rescue the now-kidnapped President, that the true bias of this film’s creators comes to light. Amir Barkawi’s son, Kamran, is repeatedly called Cameron by the President and Mike Banning, before the latter tells him to “Pack up your shit and head back to Fuckheadistan or wherever it is you’re from.” Later, a British double-agent refers to the Arabs who paid him off as, “barbarians.”
These are the sorts of lines that force you to pause the film just to process your own vilification. How many racist acts and microaggressions has this film set in motion, I wonder. (Also, what am I doing watching this hogwash on a Saturday night, I wonder.)
London Has Fallen is crammed with these “off-the-cuff” lines, seemingly designed to make the American characters look super-duper cool, but are actually unbearably cringeworthy and dated.
“There are over 100 terrorists in there,” someone radios to Banning as he enters the terrorist’s den. “Yeah, well they should have brought more men,” he replies.
When the President faces execution live on television, he starts reciting the oath of the office. At times the productions seems aware of its own nationalistic melodrama; “We’re not in a fucking movie,” says Banning. And, never above a chance to lay it heavy on the evil terrorists, he adds, “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.”
So cool. If you’re nine years old. Also assholes like them haven’t been trying to kill you for that long, but let’s not get caught up on details.
Motiveless villains VS humanized heroes
The most frustrating aspect of London Has Fallen is that it thinks that shoehorning in a couple of sentences is sufficient characterisation. “I held my sister as she died in my arms,” says Kamran Barkawi, who’s sister’s wedding was bombed in the opening scenes. “We’re all monsters, Mr. President.”
Except in London Has Fallen, we’re not; only the Arabs are monsters. There is no insight into the Barkawi family’s motivations beyond a passing line, no explanation as to how they recruited hundreds of terrorists behind this supposedly personal vendetta. Or is it motivated by arms sales? It’s hard to keep track.
This lack of nuance is consistently juxtaposed with shots of Banning’s pregnant wife, his nursery, his desire to leave his job, and, therefore, violence behind. American characters deserve a backstory; evil Arabs do not.
Banning rescues the President at the eleventh hour, and as he makes his way back out of the building, more faceless, motiveless Arabs emerge to fight him; it doesn’t matter where they came from or that he already killed everyone on his way in.
When the building threatens to blow, the Americans run, and escape, but the Arab, Kamran Barkawi, shuts his eyes and waits for death, because he does not value his own life, and neither should we. Only Americans deserve to live, even if they bomb innocents, even if they torture captives, even if, worst of all, they have cringeworthy dialogue.
We don’t get to mourn the passing civilians who are caught up in a bomb blast in a final act of American justice. Like the rest of the Arabs in this film, they are not humanized. Instead we part on a scene that shows our gun-slinging racism-spouting all-American hero embracing his newborn baby. And all is right in this world.
London Has Fallen receives 3 bloodied swords for its portrayal of Arabs as inherently violent, for their characters one-dimensionality, and for considering its representation of the Arab villains nuanced.