Angel Has Fallen struggles to bring greater depth to the otherwise (mostly) enjoyably cheesy throwback elements the franchise is known for.
When the Taken films ran out of new characters to have "taken", they ripped off The Fugitive and sent Bryan Mills on the run in Taken 3, instead. Taken trilogy cowriter Robert Mark Kamen has now gone and done the same thing on the Has Fallen movies, which previously followed Gerard Butler's Mike Banning as he fended off terrorist attacks on the White House and London in Olympus Has Fallen and London Has Fallen, respectively. Fortunately, in the case of Angel Has Fallen, the results are typically just generic with flashes of inspiration, rather than being an incoherent mess. Angel Has Fallen struggles to bring greater depth to the otherwise (mostly) enjoyably cheesy throwback elements the franchise is known for.
Angel Has Fallen finds Mike at a crossroads in his career. The years of wear and tear from working in the field have begun to take their toll, forcing him to rely on increasingly heavy doses of medication to ease his pain. And although he's the favorite to become the Secret Service's next director, the prospect of being figuratively chained down to a desk job is, in some ways, more terrifying to Mike than having to deal with problems like recurring migraines and spinal damage. However, when an assassination attempt is made against the newly-elected U.S. president, Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman), and Mike is framed for the attack, he's forced to push his personal issues to the back-burner and expose the real threat before it's too late.
Written by Kamen, Matt Cook (Patriots Day), and director Ric Roman Waugh (from a story by series writers Katrin Benedikt and Creighton Rothenberger), Angel Has Fallen deviates from its predecessors by combining its '90s-style action tropes with more serious storytelling, similar to what Waugh did on the 2013 Dwayne Johnson vehicle Snitch. The sequel also wisely shifts away from the comical jingoism of the first two movies, presumably in an effort to feel less out of touch with the current political climate. In its place, Angel Has Fallen tries to address both the physical and psychological costs that soldiers, secret service agents, and similar government servants are left to pay once their jobs are finished. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this attempt comes off feeling hollow in a film that, like the ones before it, is more invested in showing stuff go boom and Butler stab bad guys in the neck than examining subjects like PTSD with any real nuance.
That's not for lack of trying on Nick Nolte's part. The actor costars as Mike's father Clay, a troubled Vietnam War veteran who's been living on the road for much of his son's life. In addition to bringing some weightiness to the scenes where Mike confronts his old man about his absence, Nolte helps to liven up the proceedings in Angel Has Fallen, and leaves you wishing the whole movie was a buddy adventure with Mike and Clay, a la Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Other new additions like Danny Huston as Wade Jennings (Mike's old military buddy) and Jada Pinkett Smith as FBI agent Helen Thompson (the Tommy Lee Jones to Butler's Harrison Ford) leave a weaker impression, but through no fault of the actors. Meanwhile, these films continue to have little to no interest in developing Mike's wife, Leah, as a character, and even recast her here (with Piper Perabo taking over from Radha Mitchell) with little fanfare.
Like Olympus Has Fallen, Angel Has Fallen's greatest assets are its R-rated action sequences. Waugh was a stunt performer for decades before he started directing and continues to put his experience to good use, delivering generally well-constructed (and often explosion-heavy) set pieces that vary from swarms of drones attacking a lake to chase scenes involving careening trucks, and (of course) old-fashioned shootouts. The spectacle isn't as inventive or slick in its design as that in other modern action series (like John Wick), but it's a step up from the movie's political drama. Angel Has Fallen thankfully drops the blatant Islamophobia of London Has Fallen, but its stabs at political relevancy (which include references to Russian interference in U.S. elections and a story thread about tensions between the countries) are muddled at best and backwards at worst.
Where the other Has Fallen films were content to be junky action movies harkening back to the genre's popular style and tone in the '90s, Angel Has Fallen makes a respectable, but only partly successful attempt to evolve and mature the franchise (Butler has even referred to the film as "our version of Logan"). The outcome is a middling riff on The Fugitive elevated by capable action, an unexpectedly strong Nolte performance, and the movie's efforts to dig a little deeper into Mike Banning and what makes him tick. It's far from a must-see in theaters - even for the fans of this series - but, as far as potential finales go, this one comes surprisingly close to sticking the landing
Angel Has Fallen is now playing in U.S. theaters. It is 121 minutes long and is rated R for violence and language throughout.
- Angel Has Fallen (2019) release date: Aug 23, 2019