In 2013, two films told the story of an attack on the White House. One of them was a joyous slice of B-movie pap in which Channing Tatum ran around in a vest. The other was very serious, liked by almost no one and featured a growling Gerard Butler. In this hellscape of a world, it’s not that surprising to state that White House Down has been largely forgotten, while Olympus Has Fallen has spawned a franchise. This week’s Angel Has Fallen might not be the worst of them, but it’s yet another tedious slog soundtracked by machine gun fire and curse words.
This time around, Butler’s shouty, macho security expert Mike Banning is framed for the attempted assassination of President Trumbull, played by Morgan Freeman in a role he presumably accepted on the condition he could lie in a hospital bed for almost the entire shoot. Banning goes to ground as he tries to work out who is responsible for setting him up, even tracking down his estranged father (Nick Nolte) for sanctuary as an FBI agent (Jada Pinkett Smith) closes in.
As with the other films in the Has Fallen trilogy, this latest entry is a thuddingly dull exercise in blokey nonsense. Hollywood is currently stretching the possibilities of action with movies like John Wick and the Fast & Furious series, but director Ric Roman Waugh – responsible for the one Dwayne Johnson film no one talks about – simply walks through the same old beats. People shoot indiscriminately at a swarm of drones, thousands of bullets are noisily discharged and Banning’s wife (Piper Perabo) exists only to look terrified when the bad guys show up.
Perhaps the most galling thing is that Angel Has Fallen hints at a more interesting take on Banning. The movie opens with the veteran agent realising that his body is beginning to let him down as a result of all of the punishment it has taken. However, Banning’s increasing lack of physical prowess is merely a plot facilitator and is never used to explore the fading powers of a man confronting his own ageing process. Banning has to wade almost unscathed through every bland action set piece like a superhero, no matter how little the audience cares.
Any time Angel Has Fallen even moves within a touching distance of a theme, or a morsel of depth, the script runs in the other direction while yelling something about the nobility of men fighting other men for nebulous causes. The evocation of potential conflict with Russia is deployed in the least interesting way possible, en route to an ending that wraps things up so neatly it’s laughable. In fact, the closest thing to an intellectual workout the film provides is forcing viewers to squint to work out which group of predominantly white men in identical tactical vests is the good group. Each is as bloodthirsty and anonymous as the other.
Crapness is the overriding feel that permeates every frame of the movie, whether it’s the bone-headed dialogue or CGI that obviously suffered from ambition exceeding budget, but they decided to just use it anyway. Nowhere is this more true than in a mid-credit sequence so thoroughly anti-comedic that it feels like it was born of a Twitter meme – “I made a bot watch 100 hours of wryly amusing movie credits scenes, and this is what it wrote”. It’s a sequence so clangingly weird and misjudged that it shows nobody is in on the joke.
Mike Banning is truly a throwback to a less discerning era of action cinema. These films are odysseys of super-serious, repetitive action soundtracked by constant shooting and shouting – the decision to print the title card in miniscule writing is fooling nobody. Plot is thoroughly incidental and serves only to plug the gaps between the action scenes, which are all the same as the one that came before and the one that happens afterwards. There’s no variety, no innovation and no flair.
The best thing this film has going for it is that it’s not as mean-spirited and horrible as London Has Fallen. At least the invented country of “Fuckheadistan” doesn’t appear this time around. Thank goodness for small mercies.
Dir: Ric Roman Waugh
Scr: Ric Roman Waugh, Robert Mark Kamen, Matt Cook
Cast: Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Jada Pinkett Smith, Piper Perabo, Nick Nolte, Danny Huston, Lance Reddick, Tim Blake Nelson
Prd: Gerard Butler, Mark Gill, Matt O’Toole, Alan Siegel, John Thompson, Les Weldon
DOP: Jules O’Loughlin
Music: David Buckley
Run time: 121 mins
Angel Has Fallen is in UK cinemas now.