Gerard Butler returns to his post in bullet-riddled franchise sequel
Angel Has Fallen
Starring Gerard Butler & Morgan Freeman
Directed by Ric Roman Waugh
If your toilet’s clogged, you call a plumber. When your shingles are shot, it’s time for a roofer. Need a new transmission? See a mechanic.
But if your government is under attack, the only name you need in your little black book is Mike Banning, Secret Service agent, former U.S. Army Ranger, protector of presidents and other heads of state.
Banning—as portrayed by Scottish actor Gerard Butler—has dodged many a bullet (both physically and figuratively) in two previous movies, not to mention a number of other, much more combustive close calls.
Banning, the character, and Butler, the actor, both return to their posts in Angel Has Fallen, which continues in the tradition of Olympus Has Fallen (2013) and London Has Fallen (2016). It’s a red-meat grinder of gunfire and pyro built atop a gonzo storyline of implausible political implosion, an astonishing amount of carnage and, at this particular moment in time, a tone-deaf disregard for the mood of much of the nation for seeing dozens of people mowed down by all kinds of military-grade weaponry, often at point-blank range.
In Angel Has Fallen, Banning is framed for an assassination attempt on U.S. President Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman). In previous films, Trumbull was speaker of the house, then vice president. Who better than Morgan Freeman to work his way up into the Oval Office? The versatile Oscar winner, whose all-star movie resume includes Million Dollar Baby, Driving Miss Daisy, Glory, the Batman/Dark Knight franchise, Se7en, The Shawshank Redemption and Now You See Me, certainly gets my vote! (But wait—after being God, in Bruce Almighty, isn’t president a bit of, um, a demotion?)
Anyway, of course, Banning—loyal as a collie, smart as a sheltie, protective as a pit bull—didn’t do it. But who did? And why? That’s what you’ll spend half the movie wondering, until the movie conveniently lays it all in your lap (make sure you’re finished with your popcorn). Then you’ll wonder how Banning—by then a fugitive, on the lam—clears his name, where it’s all headed and how it’ll get there, when the prez will pop out of his coma, and where Banning acquired all the tools in his amazing, secret-service skill set. How did he learn how to pick open a set of handcuffs (in the dark!) with a scavenged, paper-clip-sized part from an assault rifle? How does he know (just know!) the geo-satellite coordinates of a tiny, remote, rural spot of nowhere? How does he walk through a thicket of woods right up to what has to be the only remaining roadside pay phone in all of West Virginia?
In a clunky, overtly obvious attempt to appear timely, the script drops in pointed references to Russian collusion, election tampering, hackers, the dark web and press leaks. One timely thing never noted, however—mass shootings in schools, places of worship or shopping centers. That probably wouldn’t do, in a movie with a plot dependent on more gunfire than lines of dialogue, more bullets flying than anyone could conceivably count, and an entire hospital (with people presumably inside) turned into one big bomb and a pile of smoldering rubble.
Danny Huston has a significant role as Banning’s old Army buddy, Wade Jennings, who now runs a private paramilitary contracting enterprise and training facility. “War is deception,” he tells Banning. Those words ring true, in a couple of ways, before the movie is over.
Piper Perabo plays Banning’s wife, Leah, now a mother to their toddler daughter (who appears to be genuinely traumatized by one truly traumatizing scene). Tim Blake Nelson (best known for his role as Delmar in O Brother, Where Art Thou?) is the VP, who takes over when Trumbull becomes incapacitated. You may recognize Lance Reddick (he was Cedric Daniels on The Wire, and he plays Charon in the John Wick movie franchise) as David Gentry, the head of the White House Secret Service.
But you’ll have to wait a little while for the main supporting-actor attraction. It’s Nick Nolte, who plays Banning’s long-estranged father, Clay. Looking a bit like a nicotine-stained, hermit-hillbilly Santa Claus, Clay’s a crusty Vietnam vet now living way off-the-grid, but still with a few jungle-warfare tricks up his sleeve. He hasn’t forgotten how to light up the night, and Nolte certainly brightens the movie. A former A-list leading man with a trio of Oscar nominations and more than 100 roles on his resume, he’s a tasty bit of old-salt and vinegar seasoning, especially in a sentimental scene when Clay connects for the first time with the daughter-in-law (and granddaughter) he’s never met.
And be sure to stay after the credits begin for a whimsical scene with Nolte and Butler. After the punishing bombardment of shooting, stabbing, scuffling, sky-high explosions and the ridiculously high body count that’s preceded it, its comical coda is a soft landing that at least ends this rough ride on a bit of a cushion.
At one point, Bannon leaves the president in a safe spot but assures him he’ll return, after he’s checked to make sure everything is secure. “I’ll be back before you know it,” he tells him.
Banning’s a man of his word. And given the regularity with which these Fallen movies seem to set ’em up and knock ’em down again and again, he could very well be back.
This is lowbrow entertainment for an audience that likes good guys to win, bad guys to lose, and doesn’t mind too much if everything around them becomes collateral damage in the process.
Somehow, it all gets reset before the next movie. Just wait—oh, about three years—and you might get to see who, or what, “falls” next.
In theaters Aug. 23, 2019