Outside of a few violent charms, Olympus Has Fallen isn’t very good. London Has Fallen, however, captures that mid-80s Cannon Films action template, warts and all—it’s ugly, mean, jingoistic, and reprehensible, and I adore the head-stabby carnage of it all. So Angel Has Fallen, the third film in Gerard Butler’s Mike Banning trilogy, has a lot to live up to IMO. While it’s hits a few action high points, it’s ultimately a mixed bag and a shrug.
While the earlier installments—I still can’t believe this became a franchise—feel like honest to god products of a bygone era, Angel Has Fallen takes a more current approach. It tries to humanize Mike Banning and take a peek at what’s under the hood, to its detriment. Thus far, he’s been an indestructible action hero. Sure, he may come out bloodied, scuffed, and his tank top all caked in crud, but he’s cracking wise and ready for another round. This is a guy who cares more about delivering his post-murder one-liner than the actual killing.
This is a different Mike Banning, though. That’s the whole point, but to that end, it also misses the point. We see him deal with family stuff with his wife (Piper Perabo), new baby, and estranged survivalist father (Nick Nolte); tackle job stress as President Morgan Freeman (cashing an easy check as he spends most of the movie in a coma) taps him to become head of the Secret Service; and cope with the compiled physical trauma of his previous adventures via post-concussion syndrome and a burgeoning pill addiction.
None of this is terrible, and Butler delivers it well enough in his gruff, withered fashion. But this evolution feels like a different character from a different series of movies and it’s missing the gleeful antagonism that makes London so awesome. Despite these myriad issues, they rarely slow him down in the heat of the battle or affect him beyond giving him a headache in quiet moments when the film isn’t doing anything else. Angel wants us to care about Mike Banning, but only when it’s narratively convenient, and these attempts at psychological complexity never deliver or add any depth or nuance. If anything, this plays plodding, dull, and distracting.
Even with a high body count, this is easily the most accessible, audience friendly film in the trilogy. London takes a lot of flak for being mean-spirited right-wing chest thumping. Rightly so, as it furthers the American fascination with the good-guy-with-a-gun myth, that brown people are the enemy, and that being casually racist is just fine. But this is a kinder, gentler Mike Banning, and Angel Has Fallen trades in white people’s fear of the “other” for a new faux-topical conspiracy theory grab-bag. Fill out the squares for Russian Collusion and deep state plot paranoia on your bingo card. But it also tries to have it both ways, half-heartedly taking the piss out of wannabe militia tough guys that maybe this is all bad.
In the hands of director Ric Roman Waugh (Snitch) the action is solid. Though there are a handful of strong set pieces, including a tactical banger of a climactic battle, the film does little to distinguish itself. After shadowy forces led by merc-for-hire Wade Jennings (Danny Huston) frame Mike Banning for an assassination attempt on the President, most of the film is basically The Fugitive, with a squandered Jada Pinkett Smith in the Tommy Lee Jones role, by way of Hard Target, only without the snake punching.
On the road and on the run, with Mike Banning trying to clear his name, is where Angel finds a groove. That feels like the story it wants to tell and the rest is window dressing and illusion to prop that up. Nick Nolte as the grizzled, reclusive absentee patriarch of the Banning clan is an inspired addition and I’d watch him chomp scenery and pop off with Butler all day. But even then, Butler’s unfortunately subdued and this pairing never reaches its inherent potential for glorious mayhem. How can you pair Gerard Butler and Nick Nolte in a booby-trap-filled compound and not just let them run wild for two hours?
That’s a solid metaphor for Angel Has Fallen as a whole. It could have been something memorable, something spectacularly ridiculous, but instead what we get is just okay. A passable third chapter in a franchise no one expected to make it to three movies, it aims to set itself apart from previous installments. While you can appreciate the ambition, it guts what made the last one so viciously entertaining, and it leaves us with a middle-of-the-road action film that wants to be progressive and regressive at the same time and achieves neither. [Grade: C]