Mike Banning shoots a dozen people before uttering his first line of dialog, and that line is “Fuck”. Welcome to Angel has Fallen.
Times have changed, and amazingly enough, the …Has Fallen series has changed with them. While the first two films offered a totally immoral smorgasbord of violence (especially the first one) and jingoistic racism (especially the second one), Angel Has Fallen wants to be reformed into something slightly more respectable. It even takes potshots at the Trump administration. If this series can evolve, maybe there’s hope for your grandparents yet.
Now in his third film, this Mike Banning is older and somewhat broken. He suffers from constant migraines and insomnia. At times, he can barely stand. He’s further softened by domesticity. At home he has a wife and young child, and the first act finds him mulling over a major promotion that would be a huge honor but would also keep him mostly locked in an office pushing papers. Banning isn’t sure that’s the life for him yet, he says while having a dizzy spell that almost knocks him on his ass.
Fate decides to test his dedication to being a badass at all costs. While on a fishing trip, a coordinated drone strike against the president (now played with actual gravity by Morgan Freeman) leaves Mike Banning injured, the president in a coma, and the rest of his secret service detail blown to bits. All evidence points to Banning as the attack’s executer so he must go on the run to A) clear his name, B) find out who really did this and C) save the president from another attack.
Director Ric Roman Waugh has been around (Snitch, Shot Caller), and while the action here never reaches the exemplary heights of Olympus’ opening attack or the one-shot building approach from London, you can always see the sequences and geography of what’s going on here. The big drone attack is well done - there is a dark ferocity as the exploding drones dive-bomb into secret service agents - but I don’t think little drones will ever be a good cinematic foil, and it's hard not to watch the sequence and realize Star Trek Beyond did basically the same thing three years ago. The third act offers a whole lot of generic shooting leading up to a weak final fight (although the very END of that fight is pretty great). The film’s best sequence comes right in the middle and involves little more than Nick Nolte gleefully setting off a series of bombs.
That’s the thing about Angel has Fallen. As an immoral action film starring a hero who is way too into killing people, it’s a disappointment. On the other hand, halfway through it turns into a kind of macho buddy comedy starring Gerard Butler and Nick Nolte that contains more fun and charisma than this series has ever seen. Is it a wash? An improvement? A betrayal of the series? That’s for every individual viewer to decide. I appreciated that I at least got something good out of losing the series’ dark hallmarks. It could have been just a neutered dud, but instead we have something like an R-rated Hobbs & Shaw. Just wait until you see the post-credit scene.
Other series hallmarks remain. Everything is egregiously stupid and implausible. The cast is filled with so many red herring actors (Lance Reddick, Danny Huston, Tim Black Nelson, Michael Landes) that you don’t know which obvious villains are actually the obvious villains. Alas, no Melissa Leo in this one, and I’ll be honest, I kind of missed Aaron Eckhart’s bonehead president.
But you find your joys elsewhere. By now, you probably already know if you’re going to see this film, though it is set up so you could watch it and not even know two came before. We don’t get many R-rated action films on the big screen like this. It’s not the …Has Fallen of old, and I’m shocked it even knew how bad an idea such a film would be in 2019. Instead, we have something slightly more generic saved by Nick Nolte of all people. I miss my headstabs, but overall I’m happy with what I got instead.