Released: August 2019
Director: Ric Roman Waugh
Budget: $40 million
Stars: Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Jada Pinkett Smith, Tim Blake Nelson, Danny Huston, and Nick Nolte
After United States President Allan Trumbull (Freeman) is attacked and nearly killed in an assassination attempt, decorated Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Butler) is framed for the plot and forced to go on the run in an attempt to clear his name and uncover a plot to usurp the interests of the US government.
Olympus Has Fallen (Fuqua, 2013) was a surprising hit when it came out, make over $170 million worldwide against a $70 million budget; in it, Butler picked up the torch from John McClane (Bruce Willis) and became this generations new (or, perhaps, newest) “Everyman” action hero in what was, almost unashamedly, “Die Hard (McTiernan, 1988) in the White House”. London Has Fallen (Najafi, 2016) followed, upping the states by throwing Banning into a massive city-wide attack; London has Fallen also proved a financial success, making over $200 million on a $60 million budget so, by now, we’ve established that this Fallen franchise makes money by revisiting all the best, over-the-tope narratives and action tropes of the early-to-mid-nineties action movies.
Angel Has Fallen scales the narrative and its over-the-top elements back for the most part to focus more on a character study of Banning, the man, rather than the stereotypical, invincible action hero. Banning, suffering from neck and spinal injuries and the onset of age, is confronted with his own mortality and the very real possibility that his time may soon be over as he trades field work for a desk job. Hiding the truth of his condition from his wife, Leah (now played by Piper Perabo), Banning opens the film struggling with giving up his action-orientated lifestyle, an issue exacerbated by his reunion with Wade Jennings (Huston), a former Ranger friend who has long since been relegated to the side due to age.
Amidst these issues, a devastating drone attack wipes out Banning’s entire security detail and leaves President Trumbull in a coma; when he awakens in hospital, banning finds himself in handcuffs and being grilled by FBI agent Helen Thompson (Smith). Evidence found at the scene implicates Banning for the attack so he is summarily arrested and disgraced; however, when the true culprits attempt to kill him, Banning manages to escape and is forced to turn to his long-estranged father, Clay (Nolte) for shelter while he tries to figure out who has framed him and how to stop further attempts on Trumbull’s life.
As I said, for the most part, this is a far cry from the bombastic action of the last two Fallen movies, trading over-the-top spectacle for a more sombre, grounded story; the focus is squarely on Banning and we see a more human, vulnerable side to him and explore his past and childhood far more than I was expecting. Of course, that’s not to say there aren’t a whole bunch of explosions and big action sequences it’s just, if you’re a fan of that sort of thing, you’ll have to wait for the last act of the movie for Banning to rediscover his place as an action hero as, after the initial assassination attempt, it’s more of a character deconstruction than a non-stop action thrill ride. This isn’t a bad thing; in fact it’s a pleasant surprise to flesh out Banning’s otherwise-stereotypical action hero persona and show him to be as vulnerable to the wear and tear of time and the job he does, rather than simply immune to it or ignoring it.
Nolte is an interesting addition to the cast; he’s obviously quite old at this point, which makes it difficult to understand him, but he has some fantastic banter with Butler and he’s a really fun addition to the story, though he doesn’t really factor into the finale of the film too much, to the point where I nearly forgot he was in the movie for a moment. Another criticism I had revolved around the shaky, close-ups that featured prominently not just in action sequences but also in regular dialogue scenes; Butler’s face literally fills the screen at some points and it’s a bit jarring and unnecessary. Thankfully, this does take a backseat when drones are exploding and guns are firing but it returns for a lot of the close combat action sequences, which makes these scenes unfortunately difficult to follow.
If you’ve ever seen Danny Huston in a movie before, you know that he is the mastermind behind the attempt on the President’s life; annoyed that he’s no longer young and fit enough to be on the front line, he joins forces with Vice-President Martin Kirby (Nelson) to take out Trumbull, and Banning, in a misguided and arrogant attempt to restore strength and order to the United States. Having said that, Huston is a fantastic dark mirror to Butler and I bought them as former comrades and dug the twisted code of honour that Jennings has, as he would rather die in battle than wither away through old age, but it definitely would have meant a lot more if we had seen or heard of Jennings prior to this movie. Oddly, President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) doesn’t feature in this movie and isn’t mentioned at all, which I found very jarring after two massive, over-the-top action pieces that specifically revolved around saving his life and ensuring his safety. It would have been nice to see him get a mention, be woven into the story, or maybe even have Trumbull take Kirby’s role and be the one trying to reignite war with the Russians.
Angel Has Fallen isn’t as big and stupid as its predecessors; for the most part, it’s a grittier, more grounded action affair. However, when the traditional bombastic Fallen elements do crop up, it compliments the film’s more introspective moments, making for a decent and enjoyable film. It might be a non-stop, over-the-top action spectacle like its predecessors (or even other action movies), but it’s puts a neat twist on the invincible action hero trope and was serviceable enough as a fitting end to this franchise.