Principal Cast : Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Danny Huston, Nick Nolte, Piper Perabo, Jada Pinkett Smith, Tim Blake Nelson, Lance Reddick, Mark Arnold, Frederick Schmidt, Joseph Millson, Ori Pfeffer, Chris Browning, Michael Landes.
Synopsis: 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.
Let’s get this out of the way right at the top: Angel Has Fallen is a hell of a stupid movie. It’s awfully predictable, justly reviled by cinema purists, and ultimately an exercise in creative tedium that makes even the silliest action films of the day feel perspicacious. The “Fallen” franchise, led by slowly fattening B-lister Gerard Butler (Hunter/Killer, Geostorm) started off well enough, with Olympus Has Fallen being by far the better of the White House Under Siege films of 2013, whilst the absolute abortion of a thing that was London Has Fallen quite obviously led everyone to think the whole thing was cooked. To say that Angel Has Fallen is a good movie is a vast overstatement, but despite some logical and plot-driven pitfalls there’s a lot to mindlessly enjoy about it.
Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (Butler) is accused of the attempted assassination of the President of The United States, Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman), and attempts to clear his name whilst being pursued by a pair of dogged FBI agents, Helen Thompson (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Ramirez (Joseph Milson. Although innocent, Banning learns he’s been framed by a former army buddy in Wade Jennings (Danny Huston), now running a contract security company, whilst Vice President Martin Kirby (Tim Blake Nelson) seeks to pursue his own agenda with the president temporarily out of action. As time runs out, Banning must use all his ingenuity to escape capture, whilst trying to keep his family – wife Leah (Piper Perabo) and young daughter Lynne – safe. Along the way, he reunites with his estranged father, former Vietnam veteran Clay (Nick Nolte), and the pair take it up to Jennings’ villainous plans.
Director Ric Roman Waugh has a spotty track record here at Fernby Films. His work on Snitch, a low-budget Dwayne Johnson action flick from 2013, left me a touch cold, but an earlier film, Felon, had some decent work inside it that I enjoyed but wasn’t rapturous about. A kinetic action sensibility mired in an overedited, schizophrenic jumble of imagery leaves much of the frenzied sequences in Angel Has Fallen a turgid mess, held up only by Butler’s predictably tiresome “I’m too old for this shit” routine and the joy of watching old-stagers like Nolte and Huston chewing the scenery with gusto. A film like this rests on the shoulders of how good the Big Bad is, and in Angel Has Fallen there’s a pair of them – Huston’s Jenning’s is the teeth-baring boo-hiss variety of anarchistic rage, whilst the second (which I won’t spoil) is about as obvious as balls on a pitbull for anyone who has ever seen a movie. You don’t cast quality actors in seemingly “minor” roles these days, not without expecting the audience to guess your plot twist. And Angel Has Fallen’s plot twist is nothing if not the poster child for obviousness.
From its excruciating dialogue and predictable action sequences, most of which tend to blur into an incoherent whole, the film’s concussive and excessively explosive action is delivered in appropriately modern discombobulating style, with a lot of hand-held wobbly cam thrown into the high-budget crane and drone work. An early drone-strike sequence (most of which is in the film’s trailers) is actually quite thrilling, but then the film dives headlong into rote and routine shoot-em-up set pieces that gradually wear out their welcome, at least in terms of offering something new to the franchise or genre. The film’s building shredding climax, in which the screenwriters attempt to out-do The Dark Knight’s hospital collapse scene and fail utterly in both execution and emotional weight, offers plentiful moments for Butler’s pudgy visage to glower menacingly off into the middle distance whilst bullets render surrounding human life futile, all set to David Buckley’s sonically enthusiastic score, offers mild entertainment for the discerning viewer, whilst those like me able to disassociate from the film’s simplistic brushstrokes will have an absolute blast.
And dumb! The film is so stupid, playing a cavalier game of “almost nearly” with the laws of physics and plausibility. A key sequence, in which newly accused Presidential assassin Mike Banning is transported by three small vehicles across a backwater country road to prison (or something) stretches credulity when the convoy is attacked by marauding villains; when was the last time a major high-profile criminal in the United States was left to open and unprotected and un-followed by clamorous news organisations to the point where they could be extricated from captivity almost without the outside world knowing instantly? Never, that’s when. It’s laughably stupid, and indicative of the leaps in logic the film takes with everything about its impossible plot. Bulter endures an indifferent character arc (his body is literally moments from spontaneously collapsing in on itself if you believe an early scene with a doctor), whilst Morgan Freeman spends a large portion of the film either comatose (literally and figuratively) or delivering wordly-wise sentiment in the face of overwhelming inanity. Huston has a great time, as does the always amusing Nick Nolte, growling his way through a turn as the film’s key highlight – a sequence in the woods where Banning’s old man takes out a platoon of bad guy henchmen is frightening and hilarious – whilst ring-in wife Piper Perabo, replacing former actress Radha Mitchell, who had obviously had enough of this shit to last a lifetime, seems confused about exactly why things continue to happen; it’s a film replete with quality casting but remarkably obtuse with how to adequately utilise them. When in doubt, shoot guns I guess.
Despite a litany of obvious problems in both script, performances and direction, Angel Has Fallen is still an insistently entertaining spectacle of shitty visual effects and nonsensical logical stupidity. Like its predecessors, your enjoyment of this film will derive from how much of Butler’s hysterically straight-faced performance you can endure (and I watched Gods of Egypt so I know I can endure a lot); arguably on par with Olympus Has Fallen, and a substantial improvement over its London-bound sequel, Angel Has Fallen will sit quite comfortably inside the “brainless entertainment” subgenre and endear itself to those of a less critical disposition on how they imbibe their junk-food cinema. Don’t bother counting calories here, folks; Angel Has Fallen is appreciably silly but it is a worthwhile piece of trashy fun.