Dir: Ric Roman Waugh
In 2013, we had one of those semi-regular Hollywood moments in which the same idea comes along twice almost simultaneously. We’d had comet disaster movies (Deep Impact and Armageddon), volcano disaster movies (Dante’s Peak and Volcano), animated movies about insects (Antz and A Bug’s Life) and this time it was action movies in which the White House was under attack. Neither was great, but White House Down was probably the better film, so of course it was Olympus Has Fallen that spawned a franchise, with Gerard Butler as shakily accented secret service agent Mike Banning, protecting the president first from a North Korean attack on his home and then a city wide terrorist attack in the first sequel, London Has Fallen.
Angel Has Fallen finds Banning battered. He’s getting older, injuries are piling up from the last two movies, and he’s getting migraines that mean he needs painkillers. When the President (Morgan Freeman) is attacked by drones and Banning is the only survivor of his whole team, he ends up the chief suspect and must go on the run while trying to show that he’s being framed.
Where the first two Fallen films were merely deadeningly generic Die Hard knockoffs, this third entry is much more specific in the way it draws from its influences. Chiefly, it is a slavish ripoff of The Fugitive, or rather it would like to be. Rather than the Harrison Ford classic, but with more stuff going boom, Angel Has Fallen ends up more reminiscent of Fordless follow up US Marshals, with masses of action which is only occasionally and grudgingly coherent. By being only mildly sub-average and occasionally having a moment that not only understands but exploits action geography (the confrontation on the roof of a hospital), Angel manages to take a small step over a very low bar and be the best film in the series. Another aspect that scores this film points over the previous ones is the repositioning of its politics. That’s not to say this is a deep film in that respect, but the Trump voter’s action movie madlibs feel and sometimes outright racism of London Has Fallen in particular is dumped for something right wing moviegoers will probably like rather less; a narrative that comments on the military industrial complex and lightly brushes up against current political issues.
Gerard Butler’s appeal continues to elude me. While the script does him no favours by forgetting every issue it lays out in terms of Mike’s health the second he comes under attack, the star contributes little in the way of character, vacantly grunting his way through the dialogue and looking just as impassive doing it as he does when shooting at parades of essentially faceless bad guys. Morgan Freeman, Tim Blake Nelson and Danny Houston try to lend some acting chops to proceedings but Freeman just wheels out his patented wise old sage performance and Nelson and Houston’s roles are so predictable and one note that they have nothing to work with. Nick Nolte, as Butler’s estranged father, continues on his quest to become Hollywood’s most unintelligibly gruff character actor. To be fair, Nolte gives the thing that most closely resembles a performance here and with more to play off than the sentient tree trunk that is Butler he might have pulled out a moving scene or two. Unfortunately, after an action scene that is somehow both insanely overblown and boring, he’s out of the action for most of the last third of the film, though he does return for a baffling mid-credits scene.
Angel Has Fallen shouldn’t be mistaken for a good film, Ric Roman Waugh brings more competence than London's Babak Najafi but his action is largely just as incoherent and over cut as in the previous films in the series. However, unlike Banning’s previous outings, Angel isn’t notably terrible, nor does it leave a nasty taste in the mouth with its politics. Instead, this is just one more in a long production line of action films that feel tossed off, mistaking number of bullets fired for coherence of action. You could theoretically do worse, but you could also just watch a good movie instead. The Fugitive might be the place to start.