Released in the spring of 2016, London Has Fallen was something of a precursor to the political direction that the United States would embrace by the end of that year. Reviewing it at the time, I wondered how dangerous the xenophobic attitudes and violent gun-laden patriotism of the story would be in a climate that was fostering the rise of Donald Trump, despite still finding the film an immensely entertaining boneheaded action flick. Now, with Trump in office and the nation having fully turned into a carnival of hate and grotesqueries, the series returns with the third entry, Angel Has Fallen, and I daresay it feels somewhat imbued with a sense of guilt.
Gerard Butler returns in his now signature role of Mike Banning, the invincible Secret Service agent who has been singlehandedly saving the President’s bacon since North Korean terrorists took over the White House back in 2013’s Olympus Has Fallen. Six years on, the President is now Morgan Freeman’s Allan Trumbull, who was the Speaker of the House in the first film and the Vice President in the second, whom Banning is as fiercely loyal to as he was to Aaron Eckhart’s President Benjamin Asher. Mike is still the top agent but after many lifetimes worth of combat and bodily harm, he’s not quite the indestructible man he once was, dealing with concussion symptoms and hooked on painkillers. At almost 50 years old, Butler actually allows himself to look weary and rundown for the first time and it’s refreshing to see the film try to deal with the real physical and mental consequences that an action hero would inevitably have after being pummelled for years. With an extremely patient wife (Piper Perabo, replacing Radha Mitchell) and newborn child at home, Mike is also considering taking a promotion to a desk job but like any true warrior, his heart will always be on the battlefield.
Unluckily (or luckily, I guess), he doesn’t have too much time to ponder these things as yet another assassination attempt is put into motion against the President, in the form of a drone missile strike while out on a weekend fishing excursion. With President Trumbull ending up in a coma and the rest of the security detail killed, all the evidence points towards Mike as the perpetrator. So after escaping from police custody, he must ward off both terrorists and the FBI while working to clear his name and expose the true culprits, who, without giving anything away, are very obviously telegraphed from the start.
This begins a Fugitive-like tale, with Banning turning back into America’s number one action man to dispatch with numerous enemies left and right, while also finding time to reconnect with his estranged and off-the-grid father (suitably played by a grizzled, mountain man Nick Nolte). It’s all pretty conventional stuff, with reliable action director Ric Roman Waugh (Felon, Snitch, Shot Caller) going through the motions in a brusquely efficient manner. While it never quite reaches the compositional creativity and over-the-top fun of the previous installment, there’s a doggedness to the central character that still makes it a decent way to kill a few hours.
The Has Fallen series has been pretty successful so far at evoking the kinds of Reagan-era action flicks that would regularly fill up multiplexes in the ‘80s. While the initial two films’ politics have often reflected that era as well, up until now they’ve only existed as ridiculous fantasy under a liberal-leaning US government. For a moment, it seems like Angel Has Fallen realizes its place in the larger context of things, throwing out the stereotypical foreign villains of the previous films in favour of a more internal domestic threat while making some vague mentions about a Russian vote tampering scandal which rocked the last election (but Freeman’s just and good President Trumbull still won, so…). It even almost seems like the movie wants to feel for every day people.
But then it just devolves into a blandly noisy firefight in a public metropolitan area full of bystanders scattering and screaming while assault rifles go off around them. This takes on a new degree of gravity after the recent mass shootings, but in the world of Angel Has Fallen, it’s about “lions” going to war, doing what they need to do. The bad guys are going to have big guns so the good guys have to be prepared with even bigger guns.
Look, I’m not expecting biting sociopolitical commentary from my action movies. But for a franchise that tipped into self-parody right from the start, a little more subversion could go a long way.
- Rated: R
- Genre: Action
- Release Date: 8/23/2019
- Directed by: Ric Roman Waugh
- Starring: Danny Huston, Gerard Butler, Jada Pinkett Smith, Lance Reddick, Morgan Freeman, Nick Nolte, Piper Perabo, Tim Blake Nelson
- Produced by: John Thompson, Les Weldon
- Written by: Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt, Matt Cook, Ric Roman Waugh, Robert Mark Kamen
- Studio: Campbell Grobman Films, Eclectic Pictures