I can be a sucker for a good, old-fashioned, no-holds-barred action movie. You don’t need an overly complex narrative, if you have charismatic actors, some good one-liners, and well-choreographed and executed action sequences. Angel Has Fallen, the third film in the series of films starring Gerard Butler as U.S. Secret Service agent Mike Banning, clearly aims for this sort of streamlined, straight-shooting throwback to the action cinema that dominated the ’80s and ’90s.
It also wants to be part of this continuing trend in modern action films, where the protagonists are reaching the end of the line, physically, and coming to terms with the fact that they can’t take many more punches. Unfortunately, Angel Has Fallen doesn’t quite succeed at either, too pedestrian in its execution to deliver satisfying action movie thrills or fully humanize its central hero.
Directed by Ric Roman Waugh, Angel Has Fallen stars Gerard Butler as Secret Service agent Mike Banning, serving under the command of Morgan Freeman’s President Trumbull. Trumbull wants to promote Banning to the Director position of the Secret Service, unknowing of the fact that Banning has been secretly visiting doctors for his intense migraines and physical ailments.
On one of the president’s fishing excursions, the Secret Service comes under attack by drones in an assassination attempt on the country’s leader, leaving Trumbull in a coma and Banning the only agent to survive the attack. Little does Banning know that he has been setup, with the FBI (led by Jada Pinkett Smith) finding considerable evidence of Banning’s involvement in the assassination attempt. When Banning conveniently escapes the FBI’s clutches via a surprise ambush, he finds himself on the run and trying to clear his name.
The screenwriters of Angel Has Fallen, who were clearly influenced by The Fugitive (among other ’90s action/crime films), crafted a skeleton of a story (if Trumbull did not end up in a coma, this film would be over in 20 minutes), which keeps the “shocking” reveals of the true villains of the story from actually being all that surprising. When you only prominently show one character’s interaction with Banning in the first act, you can have a pretty good inkling of who is going to end up having a nefarious agenda.
As a result, the main source of entertainment for me becomes how the filmmakers pad that time in between predictable character reveals and recycled action storytelling beats. And most of that time is allotted to car chases, explosions, very questionable CGI, and shootouts; it’s a shame that this action is so bereft of any style or creative choreography that it can’t really give Angel Has Fallen‘s banal story the shot of adrenaline it needs.
Perhaps the biggest issue with Angel Has Fallen, from an action standpoint, is how dull and ugly these scenes (and the film, as a whole) are to look at. Most of the action sequences in the first half of the film are shot in near pitch-black darkness, further hindered by the shaking camera and choppy editing. One specific brawl, in which Banning escapes a car of assailants in the dead of night, is a prime example of incomprehensible action; I could not tell you who hit who in that scene, draining any sense of excitement I would have had during what is clearly a tense moment for our protagonist. The rest of the film is shrouded in a bland grayness that only bogs things down more.
Angel Has Fallen’s supporting cast (which includes Danny Huston, Tim Blake Nelson, and Piper Perabo) is actually quite stacked, even though the only person that gets anything of substance is Banning’s estranged father, played with delightful weirdness by Nick Nolte. When Banning Sr. enters the story, the film jolts to life for a brief time, with Nolte ably providing a couple laughs and an ounce of dramatic heft.
With a film like Angel Has Fallen, which is so utterly predictable in its nonsensical storytelling, the action really has to deliver to make the journey worthwhile. And that is where the film falls short, doling out dull, serviceable action scenes that can’t elevate the recycled narrative. If you have been invested in this franchise up to this point, it may be worth it for you to see this newest installment. This is the exact type of generic action movie that I would expect to be released straight-to-video, but somehow this one made its way into theaters.
Angel Has Fallen is rated R and is in theaters now.