Movie Review: Angel Has Fallen (2019)
It’s been several years since movie character Mike Banning displayed his big-screen heroics and larger-than-life bravado in his Fallen (or Has Fallen as some are calling it) action saga. Beginning back in 2013 with the release of the movie Olympus Has Fallen, the story centers around Mike Banning, a former 75th Ranger Regiment turned Secret Service Agent, as he protects POTUS Benjamin Asher (played by actor Aaron Eckhart) and Speaker of the House Allan Turnbill (played by Morgan Freeman) through a series of organized terrorist events. The first film took an interesting spin and did garnish modest return on its investment with a box office result of $170 million against its $70 million budget; greenlighting the eventual the 2016 sequel film London Has Fallen. This next installment continued the action narrative thread of this first film, upping the ante within its tension and theatrical dramatics (with all three main leads returning to reprise their roles). However, while the movie did manage to make for than its predecessor at the box office, the film did have its fair share of criticism. Now, three years after the release of London Has Fallen, Lionsgate (as well as Millennium Media) and director Ric Roman Waugh present the next chapter with the feature Angel Has Fallen. Does this third chapter in Mike Banning’s story find its action bravado or has this franchise series run its course?
Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is getting older, with his past acts of heroism finally catching up to him, leaving him concussed and a tad “worse for wear”, electing to take pain pills to keep himself steady. Trying to support his wife, Leah (Piper Perabo), and their young daughter, Mike remains steadfast by the side of President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman), who’s about to offer his top agent as new director of the Secret Service. While on vacation, Trumbull is attacked by waves of explosive drones, killing everyone except for the POTUS and Mike. Waking up in the hospital, Mike finds himself as the person of interest and placed under arrest for an assassination attempt funded by the Russians. Confused, Mike realizes he’s being framed, soon escaping custody and setting out to his clear his name. While Mike finds a connection with his father, Clay (Nick Nolte), who abandoned his son as a child), the wanted man desperately tries to figure out who is plotting against him as well as Trumbull, who remains in a coma, protected in a hospital.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
In amongst top rated Genres out there of fantasy, comedy, and even animation (always enjoy a good cartoon endeavor…. lol), I do love action movies, especially since I grew up in the 90s and watch a lot of the 90s action films of that era. I do remember when Olympus Has Fallen first came out and I did quite enjoy it. Yes, it wasn’t exactly original and certainly did feel like new iteration of 1988’s Die Hard (or even the similar 2013’s feature White House Down), but it was still a fun and entertaining premise. Plus, I did like Butler, Eckhart, and Freeman in their respective roles. 2016’s London Has Fallen was (again) like 1990’s Die Hard 2….a sort of continuation sequel that was good, but wasn’t exactly the best iteration of what the film could’ve been. Still, in the end, London Has Fallen provided to be a suitable sequel (despite some calling it one of the worst movies of 2016). However, most of the film’s harsh criticism stemmed from the narrative’s dated Islamophobia and “fear mongering”. Regardless, I’m a fan of big blockbuster / mindless action flicks, so I may be a little biased in that regard, but I do love these two movies.
Of course, this review is about Angel Has Fallen, the latest and third installment in this franchise. I did remember hearing about this movie’s announcement online, with Gerard Butler and Morgan Freeman returning to the project, and was kind of intrigued to see where this newest entry would take the franchise. While I didn’t read much “buzz” about on my movie website, it didn’t take long until I (eventually) saw the film’s movie trailer, which (from the trailer alone) felt very much “inline” with the two previous movies (i.e. plenty of action scenes and Gerard Butler being the big action star of the feature). Plus, the movie’s release date was kind of “last hurrah” for the 2019 summer season (sort of speak), which got me interested in seeing the movie. So, I decided to check out Angel Has Fallen; hoping to be entertained by its mindless cinematic of action. What did I think of it? Well, it definitely was amusing and kept me interested in its story, but Angel Has Fallen can’t overcome its predictable narrative and generic plot points. There’s definitely a cheesy throwback throughout the movie, which is fun, but there are moments that are just as bland and vanilla for the action / conspiracy subgenre.
Angel Has Fallen is directed by Ric Roman Waugh, whose previous directorial credits include such movies like In the Shadows, Felon, and Snitch. Like the past two Fallen features, Waugh makes his intentions known from the moment the movie begins; making Angel Has Fallen exactly what viewers were expecting the feature to be….an action movie that has that blockbuster feel within its various cinematic aspects and other filmmaking nuances. Basically, Waugh isn’t exactly subtle when helming this project, but that’s not so much a bad thing, especially if you’re a fan of the series (more on that below). Still, Waugh, perhaps learning what was wrong with London Has Fallen, makes this feature a bit more grounded; presenting the movie’s narrative with a bit more realism with modern touch. That being said, Angel Has Fallen definitely has a “throwback” feel to it, with Waugh utilizing influences from the 90s era of action movies throughout, which makes the feature “fast and furious” within the progression and in its action. Perhaps the film’s greatest strength (much like Olympus Has Fallen) is within its R-rated action scenes, which are a setup from the previous 2016 feature and definitely deliver on the thrills. The spectacle of it all isn’t really there (nothing creatively done or slick) like the John Wick movies, but the efforts and constant barrage of action and explosions is there to make an action movie junkie’s adrenaline pump and get excited about. Thus, the staging and choreographing of the film’s action (and execution) is solid.
As I mentioned, the movie’s story is a bit more grounded than the previous two Fallen films, with the feature’s script, which was penned by Waugh, Matt Cook, and Robert Mark Kamen with a story by Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt, using more serious storyline aspects (with combination of 90s action aesthetics), including the aging of character Mike Banning and feeling the tiresome, weariness that his body (and mental state) have taken on his past actions. There’s also moments where the movie touches on the mental state of PTSD as well as the somewhat “emptiness” feeling that what becomes of soldiers when their “duties” are done.
In terms of technical presentation, the movie does look slick within the cinematic treatment, especially when it goes full-throttle in the action sequences. Given its “large than life” aspect that I mentioned above, Angel Has Fallen does find its stride within the action set-pieces, with the movie staging plenty of “big, bang, boom” scenes (including the third act climax piece) that are well-represented throughout the movie. Plus, the film’s background layout of its various sets and locales, while not super grand (but then again…. a movie like this doesn’t need super elaborate set pieces), does make for something “pleasing” to see throughout the film. Thus, a lot of the films “behind the scenes” team (in their various capacities) do make get the job done in their respective fields in visually shaping Angel Has Fallen. Additionally, the movie score, which was composed by David Buckley (replacing Trevor Morris), is pretty solid, with plenty of bombastic and heroic sounding melodic pieces that will surely keep a viewer’s adrenaline up.
Unfortunately, there are a few noticeable criticisms to be had with Angel Has Fallen; making a more mediocre endeavor than a slam-dunk throwback hit. The most apparent one that immediately comes to mind is in the movie’s predictable nature of how it all plays out. What do I mean? Well, much like what I mentioned above, Angel Has Fallen (as a whole) is not a very subtle movie and fully displays on what it wants show and what it wants to be. For some, that can be a good thing (and enjoyable), but the movie does fail in this regard as well; acting as a “double edge” sword and reveals a lot of the key “twist” points fairly visible to the viewer’s attention. Thus, the film’s screenplay (as well as Waugh) pretty much telegraph a lot of the big twists and surprises, which is disappointing and really “lessens” the theatrical blow when they actually happen in the movie. Thus, a lot of the important elements of big narrative sequences are kind of predictable with the main narrative following a stereotypical formula of similar fashioned features.
Basically, Angel Has Fallen’s main thread of “one man against everyone” has done, redone, and reworked many times over. So, I kind of felt like the movie was a little bit of other action movies like The Fugitive, Minority Report, Mission Impossible, Enemy of the State, Point Blank, The Jason Bourne series, and so on and so forth. You get the idea. So, what does Angel Has Fallen have to offer against those movies. Well, not much in that regard. The movie doesn’t really bring anything to the table, but merely reinforces that mantra of a man (wrongly convicted) must seek out the truth as the everyone is against him. It’s definitely a tried and true storytelling element, especially for a action flick, but Waugh never really makes the feature stands on its own merits…. merely just taking classic tropes from other projects of the action genre. Speaking of which, the movie does lean heavily on those action tropes, which can be fun, but (again) a feature film does need to stand on its own merits. Unfortunately, Angel Has Fallen does ring hollow in that regard. While the continuing story of Mike Banning (and his aging aliments) is good enough for a foundation, the rest of the feature does feel generic / derivate; a storyline that feels sort of ripped from the TV show 24. Additionally, even the stuff I praised the movie for introducing (the aging war veterans, PTSD side-effects, and what befalls them after “their service” doesn’t get fully addressed to become poignant discussion piece (merely just hinted at).
For the most part, the cast of Angel Has Fallen is pretty good with several recognizable acting talents throughout the feature and, while no one really gives a bad performance in the movie, some do outshine others or (perhaps the more noticeable ones) are just poorly written. Like the previous two movies, Gerard Butler returns to the project as the seasoned veteran character of Mike Banning. Known for his roles in 300, Law Abiding Citizen, and Hunter Killer, Butler has always carried these movies on his shoulder by lending his action star bravado / physical screen presence act as his credibility for the feature’s lead hero. Angel Has Fallen is no different with Butler gracefully returning to his character Mike with great ease. Butler knows the “ins and outs” of Mike Banning and certainly displays that in Angel Has Fallen; adding another layer to the now aging character. While some of his past projects aren’t exactly “gold” (i.e. Gods of Egypt), I do like Butler in this role and he’s perfectly fine in this movie; showcasing the right amount of big-time heroics and lead man presence throughout the film. Behind Butler’s Mike Banning come back, seasoned actor Morgan Freeman (Invictus and The Shawshank Redemption) also returns as Allan Turnbill, who is now the active POTUS of the feature. While the character is the most creatively utilized in the movie, Freeman’s acting talents (though not really challenged in a film like this) certainly lends credence and gravitas to the feature.
However, most of the supporting cast of characters, including actor Danny Huston (X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Wonder Woman) as Mike Banning’s old war buddy Wade Jennings, actress Jada Pinkett Smith (The Matrix Revolutions and Girls Trip) as FBI Agent Helen Thompson, actor Tim Blake Nelson (The Incredible Hulk and O Brother, Where Art Thou) as Vice President Martin Kirby, and actress Piper Perabo (Covert Affairs and Coyote Ugly) as Mike’s wife Leah Banning (replacing actress Radha Mitchell from the previous two films) fall flat and leave little to no memorable impressions. What’s the problem? Well, the acting talents are not really in question as a lot of these individuals are quite talented (seriously…. Danny Huston is like in a ton of stuff and is almost everywhere nowadays), the problem lies within their respective characters or rather how they are written to be. Huston’s Jennings is easily predictable, Pinkett Smith’s Thompson is generic (something akin to Tommy Lee Jones’s character in The Fugitive), Nelson’s Kirby is bland, and even Perabo’s Leah is uninteresting. It’s sad because all of these characters, despite being a cliché of sorts, could’ve been slightly more if they were written better.
In fact, the only new character that really does make a surprise hit in the movie is by seasoned actor Nick Nolte (The Prince of Tides and Warrior), who plays the character of Clay Banning, Mike’s wayward father. The character of Clay certainly does breathe a sort of “freshness” into the movie when he appears (a sort of different dynamic) and the comedic banter between Nolte and Butler is actually quite fun to watch. It’s just disappointing that the character isn’t really in it that much, despite leaving the strong impression of the supporting players. Kind of wish that the movie was more of “buddy cop” adventure, with the father / son Banning aspect being something quite new and unexpected for the series.
It’s a third time’s a charm for Gerard Butler’s Mike Banning; returning to the big screen to clear his name and find those responsible for his wrongful setup in the movie Angel Has Fallen. Director Ric Roman Waugh’s latest feature returns to the high-stakes realm of terrorism, explosions, shootouts, and macho “gunslinging” bravado of character Mike Banning with third entry in the Fallen series. The plot beats feel recycled for similar projects and the movie waters down its inevitable twists and turns (as well as the all too familiar character tropes found in this storytelling genre), the movie does make a decent effort within its action sequences and the acting talents that are involved. To me, the movie was okay-ish. Yes, I do love Butler in the role and there’s a certain cheesy action throwback charm to the whole feature, but it just simply doesn’t raise the bar for both the Fallen franchise series or in the action genre of recent features. That being said, I did like it more than London, but not as fun as Olympus. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is both a “recommended” one for the series and a “iffy choice” for everyone else. Again, it’s adequate viewing entertainment, but nothing grand of action movies or highly cinematic like the John Wick movies. Whether or not that we will see Butler’s Mike Banning again on the big screen for a fourth Fallen installment remains to be seeing. Regardless, Angel Has Fallen delivers on what was promised, resting comfortably within its familiar territory for a passable “no guts, no glory” redux of the 90s action genre.
3.3 Out of 5 (Recommended / Iffy Choice)
Released On: August 23rd, 2019
Reviewed On: August 27th, 2019
Angel Has Fallen is 120 minutes and is rated R for violence and language throughout