Synopsis – Secret Service Agent Mike Banning is framed for the attempted assassination of the President and must evade his own agency and the FBI as he tries to uncover the real threat.
My Take – Released back in 2013, the Gerald Butler led Olympus Has Fallen turned out to be a surprisingly entertaining action film, which despite possessing a familiar plot in the veins of Die Hard, found success for its old school approach. A success which justified a sequel in the form of London Has Fallen, which released three years later comparatively to a lesser enthusiastic reaction.
While the 2016 film was criticized for trading its predecessor’s jolly action for overwhelmingly graphic violence and hard-to-stomach xenophobic overtones, its generous worldwide earnings pretty much guaranteed the return of Butler’s stoic Secret Service agent Mike Banning in the form of this lesser brutal threequel, another three years later.
Marketed as a supposed conclusion to the Fallen trilogy, with a darker tone and more character-driven arc than the previous films, this film, however, despite what Gerald Butler promised, turned to be a standard third film from any B level action film series, where the celebrated lead of the previous films is set up in a conspiracy, and is now suddenly seen as the antagonist by everyone around him.
While I agree that earlier films didn’t possess an exceptional script themselves, but here, the whole screenplay comes across as too familiar, making you see the twists and turns coming in beforehand.
Thankfully, the film delivers on the well-choreographed action sequences front, making the whole experience, despite the predictable nature of the narrative, passably engaging.
The story follows Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), a Secret Service agent, who is now serving Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman), the current President of the United States. Serving loyally, he acts as a friend as well as guardian angel to Trumbull. However, unknown to everyone, including his wife, Leah (Piper Perabo replacing Radha Mitchell from previous films), Banning is tormented by concussions, migraines, and a painkiller dependency, hence has been contemplating from taking up his next assignment as the Secret Service Director, a post he has been groomed for.
Unfortunately, his life goes spiraling downwards, when during a fishing expedition with the President, the entire security details gets killed, in an elaborate assassination set-up designed by brilliantly trained mercenaries. Nevertheless Banning manages to escape with the President.
But with a set of injuries he receives, Trumbull soon slips into coma. With no witness to collaborate his story, and set of finger prints found in a van from where the hi tech assassination attempt took place, Banning is charged with being in collaboration with the Russians in their attempt to murder the President by FBI Agent Thompson (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Vice President Martin Kirby (Tim Blake Nelson).
During his transfer to prison, Banning manages to wriggle out of his seemingly inescapable predicament and decides to take on the forces who framed him, at any cost, even if it involves seeking the help of his estranged father, Clay Banning (Nick Nolte), a former Vietnam-era Ranger, who also happens to be a paranoid survivalist.
Yup, the plot of this film is paper-thin. This kind of conspiratorial, paranoid story-line works in the Mission: Impossible franchise precisely because the Ethan Hunt and his allegiances are mostly fuzzy. Yes, Hunt is employed by the government, but he and his team protect a personal vision of justice. On the other hand, super-patriot Banning’s job is to make sure nothing happens to a specific individual, regardless of what that person might stand for.
Yet at no moment in the film does anyone try to come up with a real, existential reason why Banning would ever betray the President, his boss. It is also never addressed why anyone would believe Banning would attempt an assassination on the president considering he’s already put his life on the line multiple times before in two other films.
Even the side plot about Banning getting too old to do this job could have served as an interesting commentary on the imminent obsolescence of the action man body and so forth, but ends up being a lazy attempt to forcing us into care.
Perhaps realizing that big explosions, incessant gunfire, loud music, and chase scene aren’t enough to support a two-hour running length, the film’s script (written by Robert Mark Kamen, Matt Cook, and director Ric Roman Waugh) is mixed with mediocre attempts at social commentary on such wide-ranging issues as the opioid crisis, the difficulty soldiers face in re-acclimating to society, uncaring nature of the military machine, and goes on and on with anti-war statements.
However, director Ric Roman Waugh (Snitch, Shot Caller) fares better with the action scenes, which trade the earlier film’s wanton stabbing for a surplus of ’80s-style pyrotechnic explosions, which are quite entertaining. The assassination attempt is the film’s biggest set-piece, and as is franchise tradition, it queasily recalls real-life operations in modern American combat.
Against the dozens of bomb-carrying drones flying over them, the highly trained agents surrounding the President on his fishing trip in the middle of a lake are utterly powerless. And each one gets blown to bits during an extended sequence of mayhem.
The action intensifies when Banning flees to Kentucky to hide out with his Vietnam vet dad, a paranoid survivalist who’s booby-trapped his rural redoubt. All which builds to an Alamo-esque finale that, again, provides some well-staged action, with hand to add a little to the mix.
While the film is astutely designed, action packed and fast paced. What it lacks is a powerful antagonist. Danny Huston as Wade Jennings, the main bad guy who is willing to go to any lengths to bring down the government simply for personal gains, lacks persona. Though he is sincere in his performance, his treats appear cartoonish and is hardly disturbing.
To give Gerard Butler credit, despite a middling career he’s committed to a slew of roles that often call upon him to yell, take himself very seriously, and kill people. Here too, he does a good job of playing the same character. Morgan Freeman has lesser role here than previous outings, but does well with whatever he has.
Nick Nolte makes for a good addition, however in supporting roles, Piper Perabo, Jada Pinkett Smith, Lance Reddick and Tim Blake Nelson are wasted. On the whole, ‘Angel Has Fallen’ is a passable yet engaging action thriller with a mediocre plot and entertaining action sets.
Directed – Ric Roman Waugh
Rated – R
Run Time – 120 minutes