A film review by Craig J. Koban September 9, 2019

ANGEL HAS FALLEN jj
 

2019, R, 121 mins.

 

Gerard Butler as Mike Banning  /  Morgan Freeman as Allan Trumbull  /  Jada Pinkett Smith as FBI Agent Thompson  /  Lance Reddick as Gentry  /  Tim Blake Nelson as Vice President Kirby  /  Piper Perabo as Leah Banning  /  Nick Nolte as Clay Banning  /  Danny Huston as Wade Jennings

Directed by Ric Roman Waugh  /  Written  by Robert Mark Kamen, Matt Cook, and Ric Roman Waugh

To this very day I've find myself still defending my 3.5 star review of the 2013 DIE HARD clone OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN.  

That Antoine Fuqua directed, Gerard Butler staring action vehicle never once hid the fact that it was a beyond obvious knock-off of the iconic 1988 Bruce Willis franchise/genre starter, but it emerged as one of the finest emulators of that cherished and very overused template and wholeheartedly delivered on successfully riffing on the bombastic films of a bygone era.  Having said that, I never thought that the superbly engineered OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN was requiring sequels, and the unavoidable LONDON HAS FALLEN still delivered on bruise knuckled and teeth clenched mayhem, but also seemed even louder, cruder, and dumber that what came before (that, and the xenophobic leanings of its main hero was a real turn off). 

This brings me to yet another franchise entry that, to be frank, I highly doubt even the most - ahem! - die hard fans of OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN were ever clamoring for.  ANGEL HAS FALLEN continues the blood curdling adventures of Butler's gruff and tough secret service agent, who's once again tasked to defend a very vulnerable and under attack president (the Commander-in-Chiefs that populate this series are among the most unlucky in cinema history).  This latest entry continues the series' modestly enjoyable retrograde simplicity as over-top-top action romps and its creative aims are decidedly low in this respect.  However, it also does what good sequels should do in terms of mixing things up, in its case showing the years of barbaric wear and tear that have been inflicted on Butler's America...FUCK YEAH hero and how they're starting to take their toll.  Beyond that, there's a semi-intriguing wrench that's thrown into this franchise's story machine in terms of harnessing the innocent-man-on-the-run narrative elements of THE FUGITIVE.  There's an eagerness on the maker's part here to shake things up while given audiences what they expect, but at the same time ANGEL HAS FALLEN nevertheless feels like a sequel coasting on predictable autopilot that struggles to justify a hefty movie ticket cost to see it. 

Still, there's at least some commendable attempts at character progression for this threequel, showcasing Butler's once trash talking and ass kicking agent Mike Banning being broken down by the ridiculous amount of punishment that he went through in the previous two installments.  Suffering from debilitating dizzy spells, unbearable chronic spinal pain and horrendous migraines, Banning has most certainly seen better days.  The added layer of aging vulnerability gives ANGEL HAS FALLEN a much needed jolt of intrigue, and Banning has segued over the course of a few films from an aggressively cocky and tenaciously brutal freedom fighter that defeated bad guys with vengeful ease to a pill popping drug addict that's pathetically trying to hide his frailties from his bosses at the risk of losing a long awaited promotion from the new president, Allen Trumbull (series regular Morgan Freeman).  Yet, Banning finds the prospects of getting the highly coveted Director of the Secret Service gig to be panic inducing, seeing as he would have to abandon field work and become a office/desk lackey.   

 

 

Banning reveals all of his insecurities about the future to his old military buddy in Wade Jennings (played by Danny Huston, whose introduction and very presence in this film more than easily predicts a nefarious and villainous backstabbing turn for this character).  Banning still soldiers on in his current job to protect President Trumbull, but tragedy strikes early on very a secret group of mercs launch a terrifying and lethal drone attack against the president, but because of Banning's quick wits he ensures Trumbull's survival, even though he's seriously wounded and ends up in a coma.  It's revealed - to absolutely no audience member's shock - that Jennings is the man behind the hellish attacks and frames his ex-BFF for them, leading to Banning going on full Richard Kimbell on the run mode in a desperate attempt to avoid capture and clear his name.  Conveniently, the president remains in a coma and is unable to support Banning's innocence to the press. 

THE FUGITIVE-esque scripting angle to ANGEL HAS FALLEN gives this sequel some compelling forward momentum and interest, which is a stark contrast to the previous film's DIE HARD-ian cat and mouse formulas.  Instead of hiding in the shadows and launching guerrilla attacks on his foes that will stop at nothing to ensure the president's assassination, Banning this go around has to flee and be on the run after a botched assassination attempt.  The chief villain's targeted manipulation of the media is also interesting, making it that much more difficult for Banning to elude capture, especially when his face is all over social media and the news.  And Butler sure does look more tired and withered in this film, but he still embraces the new character dynamics and storytelling arcs with a guileless spunk.  Butler's a better actor than many give him credit for, and it's certainly true that these action vehicles don't require much range from him.  But Butler continues to make Banning a confident and charming brute that fights for what's right and commands our rooting interest rather easily. 

The more refreshingly stripped down approach to ANGEL HAS FALLEN is also noteworthy, especially for showcasing the efforts of Banning to live off the grid and stay low to avoid conflict.  This takes him to a fateful and awkward rendezvous with his estranged father (a rock solid Nick Nolte), who's a former Vietnam War vet with multiple screws loose that lives a mountain man/hermit life in the wild because of his genuine disdain and distrust of a constantly monitoring U.S. government.  Nolte is in pure scenery chewing mode here in one of this franchise's best new additions, which also gives Banning's backstory a heartbreaking poignancy.  This father is also responsible for one of the film's more hilariously violent moments showing him blowing up multiple goons that are on his son's trail in ways that would make Rambo blush.  ANGEL HAS FALLEN also boasts a few other stellar action sequences, like that aforementioned drone attack early on that packs a bombastic visceral punch on top of being scarily thrilling. 

Unfortunately, the rest of ANGEL HAS FALLEN is not as well oiled as it should have been, and co-writer and director Ric Roman Waugh (helmer of the underrated and mostly forgotten Dwayne Johnson thriller SNITCH) seems to be working within the same tiresomely overused action filmmaking techniques of many of his contemporaries, revving up sequences with far too much hyperactive editing and incomprehensible camera work and editing.  Waugh was a former movie stuntman, which one would think would allow for him to excel at engineering set pieces with the same clarity and precision as, say, JOHN WICK's Chad Stahelski (also a former stuntman).  Regrettably, ANGEL HAS FALLEN lacks the stylistic panache of its prequels and is just too damn aesthetically chaotic for its own good.  Pacing seems to be an issue as well here, with the film getting off to a highly odd and slow start that only becomes semi-gripping in its last half.  And at two hours, ANGEL HAS FALLEN feels bloated and could have easily been trimmed to more digestibly short levels. 

And when it boils right down to it, very little of anything that happens in this film is surprising, and it certainly doesn't take a fortune teller to predict Huston's character's would-be surprising turn to evil (it's painfully telegraphed).  And maybe ANGEL HAS FALLEN takes itself a bit too seriously as well and lacks the dopey grindhouse appeal of its predecessors.  This film wants to be a dumb and fun action romp with a insanely high body count, but also wants to chime in on many potentially thoughtful political and military themes that it clearly doesn't have the scripting smarts to tackle in any meaningful way.  And for as committed as Butler is here and the unpredictably kooky edge that Nolte brings to the table, other supporting actors look like they're in pure paycheck grabbing mode (Freeman himself looks bored stiff and is mercifully unconscious throughout a majority of the film).  ANGEL HAS FALLEN has its share of bottom feeding guilty pleasures, to be sure, and it makes honest attempts to change the series template while slavishly adhering to it in multiple respects, which helps elevate it above being completely disposable sequel drivel.  When all is said and done, ANGEL HAS FALLEN makes a strong case for a rental on a stormy night, but isn't quite up to the task of warranting a trek to your local cinema for consumption.  

  H O M E