It really is amusing to look back on the career of Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) after spending the better part of this decade with him. The Secret Service agent, who made his first appearance in the bizarro and fascinating Olympus Has Fallen back in 2013, essentially did what few others could do: Stop a big-budget Roland Emmerich action-thriller in its tracks. Antoine Fuqua’s Washington-under-siege film did what Cannon only dreamed of doing back when they fast-tracked The Delta Force into production after getting a glimpse of James Cameron’s Rambo: First Blood Part II script back in the ‘80s: It toppled White House Down, the film it was meant to imitate, at the box office, and assured that we’d be seeing Banning for at least one more outing. That took the form of 2016’s London Has Fallen, which took a step backwards in the action department but ratcheted the xenophobic, cynical intensity up to 11. So, what do we make of Ric Roman Waugh’s AngelHasFallen, which aims to put the old Agent out to pasture after giving him one final bunch of heads to stab?
It’s not bad! Angel Has Fallen is basically The Fugitive, if Richard Kimball was one of the most dangerous men on the planet and, instead of just federal marshals, he was also being hunted by rogue military contractors led by a former brother-in-arms (Danny Huston, whose mere appearance in this film should clue you into the fact that he’s the villain). Banning, this time, has been framed for the attempted drone assassination of President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman, because the movie understands that Aaron Eckhart has hit his term limit), who spends much of the movie in a coma in a D.C. hospital. This is a movie in which the dumb contradictions in the plot — say, the entire intelligence community suspecting Banning with only trace bits of evidence after the man saved basically prevented the President from being executed twice in the past — are part of the fun, and aren’t worth thinking about too heavily. Likewise, if you aren’t able to roll with (or at least able to have mocking fun with) the film’s jingoistic right-wing power fantasies, there won’t be much for you here. Much like Peter Berg’s Mile 22 from last year, it takes the ripped-from-the-headlines “collusion” narrative to goofy ends, though this time it’s much more intentional than any number of “serious” Marky Mark monologues could be.
Roman Waugh’s a solid and competent director, as anyone who’s had the chance to see Shot Caller or Snitch knows: He operates firmly in the Sunday-afternoon Dad cinema lane, and knows how to make that sub-genre sing. That isn’t a put-down in the slightest, as a whole lot of influential cinema has been brought to young people by childhood viewings during summer weekends when golf’s off the air and the baseball club doesn’t have a game until the evening, and those types of Dads are surprisingly picky viewers. The action has to be clean and competent, and on that front, Roman Waugh is far better than his immediate predecessor, Babak Najafi, at staging his sequences: There’s a great chase between a fleet of Pennsylvania police cars and Banning in a hijacked tractor truck (complete with semi-trailer) on backwoods country roads, and the final gunfight, a hospital siege between Banning and some SWAT team members and the faux-Blackwater goons is expertly choreographed and pulse-raising. It’s too long, and would likely have twenty minutes shaved off in order to fit well enough in an afternoon programming block in TNT, but that actually might make the movie a little better.
Butler’s gruff, gravel-voiced and bourbon-soaked demeanor make him perfect for this sort of grim, ugly and campy type of action thriller. His thiccness is an asset — a brief scene where we see him without a shirt at the end of the film recalls glimpses of strong bodies not perfectly sculpted for the camera (though it is funny to think that he helped to really establish that trend in our action stars back in 2007) — and his perpetual frustration with everyone and everything around him is endearing. He’s not given anything as compelling as his viciously ugly monologue in London, nor are his action scenes as hyper-violent as anything in Olympus (which remains one of the most gloriously hateful action films released in this decade), but he is paired with an asset that separates and elevates Angel Has Fallen from the rest of the franchise. It comes in the form of his father, Clay (Nick Nolte), a ‘Nam vet-turned-survivalist whom Banning asks for help at his lowest point. This is, essentially, the role that we’ve been waiting for Nolte to play for the entire back-half of his career: His glee at taking out the military contractors who are trying to storm his mountain hideaway with giant explosions is infectious, and his jokey conversations with his on-screen son are basically what I’d imagine a conversation between sentient bottles of Glenfidditch and Old Grand-Dad would sound like. It’s Last Crusade shown through the prism of a bar ashtray, and if that sounds appealing to you, I’d imagine that Angel Has Fallen would likely be high on your list of priorities this weekend, next to the Miami/Florida football game and a lengthy Sunday afternoon nap.