In this barely justifiable entry in the Fallen franchise (preceded by 2013’s Olympus Has … and 2016’s London Has …), heroic Secret Service super-agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is no longer so super.
Battling a myriad of physical and psychological disorders from the battering he took saving the Free World twice, Banning is looking a little dog-tired when we meet him in Angel Has Fallen – kicking butt in a training exercise but clearly, lacking the sharpness to see him across the finish line (or the “exfil point”, in fighting man parlance).
So it’s kind of easy to picture this world-weary warrior missing all the little warning signs to the point that he easily gets framed for an assassination attempt on the President of the United States (Morgan Freeman’s Allan Trumbull, elevated from his previous status as Speaker and Veep in the last two films and behaving quite convincingly presidential).
As they say, the original fallen angel is in the details – and we in the audience are gifted with an insight that the characters in the movie lack: the bad guys are played by the most obvious casting choices to be the bad guys.
So there’s no surprise when the Big Betrayal happens, or the Big Reveal of the mastermind comes.
Of course, at least one of the baddies has to be connected to Banning – so that the villainy takes on a personal air, and the eventual vindication (and great spillage of blood) becomes that much more satisfying.
That’s what the formula demands, and Angel Has Fallen is nothing if not formulaic. Everything goes by the numbers, and it is not particularly exciting when the Prez comes under fire. Even London, with its preposterous setups and hokey CGI, had a bit more urgency and buzz to it.
It’s only when Nick Nolte shows up, as a last resort for the fugitive Banning, that the story gets interesting and grows a heart.
Butler and Nolte play off each other well, and their interactions are probably the best thing about Angel Has Fallen – even if they are sometimes buried under paranoid ravings.
Nolte’s character aside, the other supporting roles are quite forgettable. Lance Reddick, wasted as the outgoing Secret Service head, had more to do as the concierge in the John Wick movies. And Jada Pinkett Smith’s FBI agent is so one-dimensionally written that her character seems to think only in two dimensions, much to her detriment.
Then again, the Fallen series has never been big on elevating its secondary characters, apart from Melissa Leo’s steely Secretary of Defense from Olympus. Heck, they’ve even replaced Radha Mitchell, the original Mrs Banning in two movies, with Piper Perabo and it doesn’t matter one whit.
What truly matters, in action franchises like this, is how well the action sequences deliver.
When they’re not carried out in murky lighting or jarring close-up, these are not too bad – like an eerily lit truck, car and foot chase through a forest – but lack the stakes and spleen-venting satisfaction of Olympus.
The big finale is not terribly convincing though, considering the stakes involved – you would expect tons more bodies and firepower packed in the Prez’s protective escort. Though when you have a fallen angel like Mike Banning in the detail, one man is worth 300, eh?
For a series as bloody as the Fallen films have been, Angel Has Fallen wraps things up with a pretty bow and a cutesy mid-credits sequence. Maybe it’s a promise that this truly is the end, and thankfully so. After the lacklustre way these sequels were put together, any further instalment will only be placing itself in the line of ire.
Angel Has Fallen
Director: Ric Roman Waugh
Cast: Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Piper Perabo, Jada Pinkett Smith, Lance Reddick, Tim Blake Nelson, Danny Huston, Nick Nolte