The “Fallen” franchise starring Gerard Butler as super Secret Service agent Mike Banning has always trafficked in narrative absurdity and slapdash action, and “Angel Has Fallen,” the latest installment, adheres to the pattern. But unlike the two previous pictures, “Olympus Has Fallen” (2013) and “London Has Fallen” (2016), in this chapter Banning doesn’t just save the president (now played by Morgan Freeman rather than Aaron Eckhart, climbing the political ladder from being Speaker of the House in “Olympus” and Vice-President in “London”), but himself—and the country along with them, of course.
As the movie begins, Mike’s in pretty bad physical shape—as we see in a training exercise he engages in with an old pal from his special ops days, Wade Jennings (Danny Huston), now the head of a Blackwater-style mercenary outfit—and wondering whether he should turn down the offer to head the Service he expects to receive from President Trumbull. But Trumbull doesn’t get a chance to propose the promotion, because while out fishing, he and his protective detail are attacked by a squadron of missile-shooting drones. All the agents are killed except Banning, who manages a daring rescue of the president. Trumbull winds up hospitalized in a coma, leading his VP Kirby (Tim Blake Nelson) to be sworn in as Acting POTUS.
But Mike is in hot water, because he was deliberately not targeted in the attack. Instead he’s framed for being in cahoots with the Russians in the assassination attempt. That’s malarkey, of course—as Joe Biden might say—but it brings the wrath of the FBI on him, in the person of imperious Agent Thompson (Jada Pinkett Smith) and her minions. They take him into custody on suspicion of treason, much to the distress of his wife Leah (Piper Perabo, replacing Radha Mitchell). Meanwhile Kirby, not wanting to appear weak, considers ordering military action against Russia.
But of course not even the federal government can keep Mike Banning prisoner, and he escapes to prove his innocence—it’s the old “wrong man” scenario beloved of Hitchcock, though done up here with far more explosions, gun battles and martial-artsy fights and far less wit and finesse than he would have brought to it. One of the schemers against our hero is revealed early on as Jennings (for ludicrous reasons revealed in his early conversation with Banning), but the others he’s in league with will be kept secret until later—though their identity will be pretty obvious to any perceptive viewer from the get-go.
The joker in the deck is Banning’s long-absent father Clay, a cantankerous old coot who went off the grid decades earlier and has holed up in a shack deep in the wilderness, which he’s surrounded with bombs to defend against intrusion he expects from government forces. Mike finds his way there, and together they blow away a small army of Jennings’ troops and proceed to save the day in different ways, Clay at Banning’s homestead and Mike at the hospital where Trumbull remains a target. Nick Nolte, playing off the old codger persona and scratchy voice he’s honed in recent years, does a virtual vaudeville routine in the part, and audiences will likely eat it up, even if the character—a fanatical survivalist who’s armed himself to the teeth as a result of his conspiracy-fueled paranoia—is actually pretty scary. Still, audiences will probably cheer his use of the arsenal to wipe out scads of black-clad baddies.
In fact, “Angel Has Fallen” has an astronomical body count—even some heroic characters are abruptly, and unceremoniously, bumped off without a second thought—but since the multiple deaths are presented as being no more significant than when figures drop like flies in shoot-‘em-up video games (and via effects that are just about as convincing)—action-seeking viewers probably won’t be overly concerned, especially since all the cartoonish mayhem is in a “good cause.” As befits what is essentially a B-movie with a second-tier star, the production quality is mid=grade: the production design (by Russell De Rozario) and cinematography (by Jules O’Loughlin) give the movie a pretty chintzy sheen.
Butler, of course, brings his familiar gruff virility to the proceedings, and Freeman his patented nobility. Apart from Nolte, the only other person of particular note is Huston, whose creepy smile and steely stare scream villainy, and who’s sufficiently muscled to keep the inevitable showdown with Butler from descending into complete absurdity. Waugh directs the action sequences adequately, though he can’t do much to mitigate the idiotic dialogue. (Neither can the actors.)
Probably the best comparison one can draw to the “Fallen” series is to the many movies that Steven Seagal made in his brief period of inexplicable stardom. The effects in them were hardly as grandiose, but their beefy hero was about as engaging as Butler is, and they were equally ridiculous. The two previous “Fallen” movies were as dumb as the day is long, and this one certainly matches them—but for adrenaline junkies, it will probably suffice as well as they did, since Lionsgate has had the good sense to release it at a time when major action blockbusters are scarce.