The Has Fallen trilogy is the only trilogy to have a different studio produce each installment. That should give you a clue as to how the latest one will turn out. The studios didn’t want it. We didn’t want it. So why why was this smarmy thriller even made?
The answer is money. For those of you who pay to see deep voices rattle off shallow dialogue, as well as watch macho men do macho things, than this is the series for you. For the rest of us, however, most of it’s pretty dumb. The problem is that the franchise has passed its expiration date without adding different ingredients to spice things up.
Olympus Has Fallen was Die Hard in the White House. London Has Fallen was Die Hard in London. And Angel Has Fallen is Die Hard in West Virginia. As you can see, it’s repetitive. How many times can the President really need saving?
Gerard Butler returns as the good guy. He’s saved the President twice, but now he’s trying to save his family life. Despite an unswerving adoration for his wife (Piper Perabo) and kid, being the “guardian angel” of Morgan Freeman (President) takes up a lot of time and energy.
The first time we see Butler’s Mike Banning, he has an “I’m too old for this stuff” look in his eyes. That doesn’t stop him from beating everyone up in paintball training, though. But it does make him consider taking a desk job. Early on we learn that Banning has developed PTSD and a pain killer addiction thanks to the injuries he suffered in the past two films. “You’re a disaster waiting to happen” says his doctor.
The movie itself is a disaster waiting to happen, too. Director Ric Roman Waugh’s first mistake was trading muscle for dramatic weight. Butler may have a chiseled face worthy of Mount Rushmore, but conveying emotions isn’t his strong suit. Watching him wince in pain is like watching someone struggle with constipation. The crowd at my screening couldn’t help but laugh out loud during one of his breakdowns on a fishing boat. He’s there protecting the President. And before you can say “not again…” the two are being attacked by bird-like drones.
The rest of the plot is easy to describe but hard to escape. Banning is framed for the air strike, since everyone’s already forgotten he’s saved the world twice, I guess? Now he’s on the run The Fugitive style. Only, this isn’t The Fugitive. This has none of the pounding suspense seen in that 1993 hit. Nor does it have the restraint seen in Andrew Davis’ man-on-the-run script. Just because you’re working with a frantic subject doesn’t mean you have to make a frantic work of art.
Still, it’s impossible to confuse this as something trying to be restrained. In Chicken Little the sky was falling. Here, the whole damn world is falling, and falling apart. Why? Because of (another!) conspiracy theory in the White House. Also because the $80 million dollar budget seems to have been spent on seat-rattling explosions and ear-splitting gun shots. It definitely wasn’t spent on the screenwriters. The twists here are so obvious they shouldn’t even constitute as twists – these bad guys might as well be wearing name tags.
That’s not to say it doesn’t have its explosive moments. A car chase with a semi-truck is semi-comprehensible, even if the green screen sticks out like a blown off thumb. Another example takes place at an emergency shelter worthy of Dwight Schrute’s praise. Banning is hiding out with his geezer dad (Nick Nolte) in the forest. He’s one of those “birds aren’t real” types, but he is capable when it comes to explosives. When a team of 100 or so mercenaries come to his neck of the woods, it’s the rated R version of Home Alone.
The warmth of this father-son duo is almost enough to light up the grey skies that surround them. Until it isn’t. Like everything else in the movie, that flowering friendship gets drowned out by the repetitive action. Even so, it wasn’t enough to drown out the most misplaced anti-war message ever shown on film. It’s alarming to see something like this – stacking up bodies to sell tickets – teach us a lesson in politics and war. Imagine if your D.A.R.E teacher was giving a lesson on the dangers of drugs while lighting up a crack pipe. It just doesn’t make sense. Can this series do anything right?
At least the first film had the benefit of being new. By now though, Angel Has Fallen seems as chapfallen as the hero at its center. Banning has spent three movies taking beatings and giving beatings, giving beatings and taking beatings, without being given much else to do. Yet he always comes out alive and ready for the sequel. How much more can he take? How much more can we take? It isn’t a spoiler to say that they’ve teed this up for a fourth despite Butler’s exhaustion. The presumable title to that one might look like: Gerard Butler Has Fallen: Natural Causes.
Angel Has Fallen is a galumphing installment to a galumphing action franchise. With a hero who's been beaten to a pulse, the next one could very well be called "Gerard Butler Has Fallen: Natural Causes."