2019 | rated R | starring Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Nick Nolte, Danny Huston, Lance Reddick, Piper Parabo, Jada Pinkett Smith, Tim Blake Nelson | directed by Ric Roman Waugh | 2 hrs 1 min |
The third sequel in the most unlikely action series in existence right now, Angel Has Fallen follows Gerard Butler’s heroic secret service agent Mike Banning once again saving the president of the United States from terrorism either foreign… or domestic. It’s the most competent and the least interesting entry to a uniformly trashy action series. In Olympus Has Fallen we had North Korean terrorists take over the White House in a movie that captured a red-blooded anger for both real-life North Korean exploits at the time and a general hunger for an adult R-rated action movie. It also had a scene where Melissa Leo was dragged down a hall by a terrorist defiantly singing the pledge of allegiance that’s become as famously stupid as anything in The Wicker Man. London Has Fallen took the action to Middle Eastern terrorists attacking London which was both considered racist for daring to show middle eastern terrorists and insensitive for coming out on the anniversary of a middle eastern terrorist attack. That movie is an angry, incomprehensible mess that has blurred into a shaky cam haze for me. Angel ticks more politically correct boxes, looks better, is put together with less of the series trademark anger and fits right in with any generic action movie.
I feel completely free to describe the entire plot here. There are no spoilers, nothing you won’t predict in the first 5 minutes and nothing that you haven’t seen a thousand times in other action movies. Angel hits those beats hoping that “best of the best” super cop Banning’s completely bland, humorless personality is enough to somehow elevate the proceedings. Olympus is Fallen may have been Die Hard in the White House, but Butler is no Bruce Willis. Lacking all of the regular guy charm, wise cracks and effortless badassery of John McClane, Banning grunts, curses and in this case hobbles from one shootout and car wreck to the next. And if Olympus is Die Hard, Angel is Live Free or Die Hard putting it’s old school hand-to-hand-combat action hero against high tech weaponry in targeted drone assassins bank account hacks. The movie doesn’t realize this potential and never plays into it the way Live Free does.
So those killer drones dive bomb into an oddly large secret service entourage accompanying the president (now Morgan Freeman) on a fishing trip in the only sequence that captures the first film’s gruesome exploitation vibe. Banning saves the president, but as the only guy who survives is sent on the run. Like McGarnagle, he’s been framed for a crime he didn’t commit and we’re soon in, well not The Fugitive territory, more like Taken 3 territory. We’re several rungs down the action movie ladder here. We also get a lot of action scenes at night to cover the budget constraints.
Soon we shift to J.J. Abrams/Alias/Scandal territory where the only person Banning can rely on is… (record scratch) his estranged father (played by Nick Nolte looking like Nick Nolte’s own mugshot). Dad Banning is held up in the woods like a doomsday prepper ready to loan out the old trusty truck to his son in need (“You kept it after all these years”). Don’t worry though because Banning’s wife (recast Piper Parabo) is being comforted by his old war buddy (Danny Huston) and movies never spend time with these side characters if they are going to turn out to be the bad guy.
Ultimately, Angel ends up going the way of every other action movie that isn’t Olympus has Fallen and London Has Fallen, and revealing the villain to be – you probably guessed it – the American government. It’s White House Down, it’s Captain America: Winter Soldier; hell, Gerard Butler already dealt with this in Geostorm and Danny Huston already played this character in X-Men: Origins. Not that every movie villain needs to reflect some real world fear, but to say that the enemy inside the U.S. government trope is something 99% of action movies try to pull off as a surprise twist is probably not an exaggeration. Who is trying to kill the president? The Vice President, of course, because he always is. The sniveling political villain strikes again and if the movie gets any points from anyone for playing it safe it looses them all for delivering the same non-threatening comic book wimp for a villain we always get instead of someone that might actually be threatening.
The Fallen series at it’s best is a call back to the 90s hay day where R-rated action movies could still reign at the box office and get big budgets. Coincidentally, I just re-watched True Lies, a paragon of 90s action movie cliches both cringing and wonderful. True Lies has aged both very poorly (Cameron’s high school humor is rough and he takes delight in humiliating Jamie Lee Curtis) and very well. The good stuff is in 3 or 4 just knockout action scenes. This is a movie where Arnold Schwarzenegger (in prime super-cop mode) steals a Herrier jet off the runway and immediately runs over a cop car with it, says both “your fired” and “cool off” and Jamie Lee Curits and Tia Carerre beat each other with Champaign bottles in the back of a speeding limo.
Nothing in the Fallen movies captures this kind of fun and nothing in most recent action movies capture the elaborate staging of these 90s action scenes where cars, planes and buildings get tossed around and people jump, hang and swing around the environment. Angel Has Fallen’s action is one-note: shootouts. Bullets turning concreate into confetti. That’s a long, round-about way of saying this: this series has a small nostalgic niche it could occupy by simply homaging movies that don’t get made any more and it can’t even do that. It’s junk.