“We’re lions,” says Wade Jennings (Danny Huston) to his friend Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) during the surprisingly reflective first act of Angel Has Fallen. We’ve met Banning before in the two previous installments of this series, Olympus Has Fallen (2013) and London Has Fallen (2016), while Jennings is a new addition to the cast we’re meant to instantly be invested in. Apparently he and Banning served together in Iraq before the latter became a longstanding Secret Service agent (Jennings runs a private military contracting firm). Both men are getting older and neither is quite ready to accept that they may no longer be physically or mentally equipped for battle. But Banning also isn’t ready to settle into the desk job that’s being offered to him as Director of the Secret Service.
Even though the third entry in this steadfastly mediocre trilogy opens on this thoughtful note, it’s not long before disaster strikes–or rather a fleet of drones wipe out almost all the Secret Service agents protecting now-President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman, getting a promotion from the previous picture and a hell of a lot more presidential than what we’ve got in real life). The injured Trumbull falls into a coma while the only other survivor is Banning, who learns when he regains consciousness that the evidence points to him as the mastermind behind the attempted assassination.
After its hero does the expected thing of escaping from the hospital and goes on the run, Angel Has Fallen becomes a riff on The Fugitive for a significant portion of its running time (the pic also flagrantly channels movies like Iron Man 3, The Bodyguard, and others). Jada Pinkett Smith plays a dogged FBI agent–and the only female character of note–who in true Tommy Lee Jones fashion pursues her target even as she begins to doubt he’s the perp she wants to bag (Banning’s wife, played this time around by Piper Perabo, is relegated to holding a toddler and looking concerned).
Even if it’s not clear to the FBI, the retiring head of the Secret Service (the always welcome Lance Reddick) and the many supposedly smart government agents working the case that Banning has been set up, it’s not only evident to us but it’s also obvious from the get-go just who the real nemesis is. And that’s the problem with Angel Has Fallen: It’s so predictable, its twists, betrayals and characters so telegraphed (even via casting) that though Butler himself tries hard to elicit empathy for the essentially decent Banning, there’s almost nothing here we haven’t sat through before.
The one spark of something fresh occurs when Banning, looking for a place to hide, ventures to the off-the-grid home of his long-estranged father, played in wild-eyed, monumentally grizzled fashion by Nick Nolte. Dad is, of course, a conspiracy theory nutcase, but their fractured relationship does provide the movie with its much-needed only humor and even a hint of poignancy (plus no one says “Fuck ‘em” quite like Nolte).
The scenes between Nolte and Butler are the best in the movie, which is directed by Ric Roman Waugh (Shot Caller) in steady enough fashion–at least you know where you are in the action sequences, a seemingly rare feat these days. The last 45 minutes of the film is just one sustained battle as another attack is made on the president, but even some of the more thrilling, tense moments are offset by ludicrous green screen and CG work. It’s sad to think that it was just 11 years ago that Christopher Nolan blew up a real building in The Dark Knight, while now even smoke is created inside a hard drive.
Then again, the Fallen films have always been made for a price, and they’ve never aspired to anything more than middling action and a pass or two at current relevancy (this time out, Russia’s election tampering and Putin’s machinations are referenced). At their worst, they’ve been unashamedly jingoistic (London Has Fallen) while at their best they offer up a Die Hard-like scenario of a good man trying his hardest to fulfill the mission that he’s been tasked with. But even their best has never been good enough, although if this one makes enough money we may yet see Banning on the job again.
Angel Has Fallen is out in theaters this Friday, Aug. 23.
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Don Kaye is a Los Angeles-based entertainment journalist and associate editor of Den of Geek. Other current and past outlets include Syfy, United Stations Radio Networks, Fandango, MSN, RollingStone.com and many more. Read more of his work here. Follow him on Twitter @donkaye