First it was Olympus. Then it was London. And now, perhaps predictably, Angel Has Fallen — the angel in this case referring to the President’s guardian angel, Secret Service agent Mike Banning, played by snarling Scottish scrapper Gerard Butler. Can you even believe we’ve made it to this point with this Millennium Films-produced action franchise? Do you remember when this was supposed to be the other “Attack on the White House” movie after Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx signed on to lead White House Down, which sold to Sony in a splashy spec deal? Well, as it so happens, a rival project titled Olympus Has Fallen skirted under the radar back in 2013, only to beat White House Down to theaters by three months. Not only did the so-called underdog outgross that tentpole at the domestic box office, it did so with half the budget. And unlike its starry studio counterpart, Olympus managed to spawn sequels, with each film in the Fallen trilogy distributed by a different studio, no less. Clearly, there’s an audience out there for this kind of movie, and I suspect that those who venture out to see this trilogy-capper will be pleasantly surprised, as it’s a significant improvement over its 2016 predecessor. In fact, based on the strength of this film, I wager we’ll keep getting more of these movies — at least until the box office has fallen, of course.
This time around, Ric Roman Waugh (Snitch) directs and the plot concerns an assassination attempt on President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman), for which Agent Banning becomes the prime suspect. We obviously know he’s being framed, but the question is, by who? The answer is pretty easy to guess unless you’ve never seen a movie before. Just ask yourselves, who would stand to benefit from Trumbull’s death and a proposed war with Russia? Fortunately, the fun of this film doesn’t lie in the weak guessing game of trying to identify the bad guy(s). It’s about the action-packed journey along the way.
See, on the run from law enforcement and a private security firm led by Wade Jennings (Danny Huston), Banning turns to the only man he can trust — his estranged father, who lives in the woods and off the grid. Three-time Oscar nominee Nick Nolte plays wild-haired Clay Banning and he gives this movie just the spark it needs. This may not be a touching father-son story, exactly, but their arc does have its charms, particularly when Nolte is blowing away the enemy thanks to a series of strategic explosions around his remote home.
That scene is one of several actions sequences that really stand out, along with the initial drone attack on President Trumbull, a nighttime chase scene through the woods with an 18-wheeler, and a hand-to-hand fight scene pitting Banning against Jennings in close quarters, which felt like something out of The Equalizer 2. Which kind of brings this franchise full circle, since Antoine Fuqua directed Olympus Has Fallen before moving on to the Equalizer films. It’s as if Sony saw Fuqua beat them at their own game, so they hired him to steer their next action franchise.
Fuqua didn’t return for London Has Fallen, handing the reins to the ill-prepared Babak Najafi, who failed to take the ball and run with it. Thankfully, the real reason this movie works as well as it does is the creative team behind it. The producers brought in Robert Mark Kamen, the screenwriter of Taken, The Transporter and The Karate Kid, and Patriots Day scribe Matt Cook, who worked with Waugh on the script. Waugh is a veteran stuntman who last directed Shot Caller, which was one of my Top 10 movies of 2017. He’s a thoughtful filmmaker with machismo to burn, and while there are plenty of hammy moments in Angel Has Fallen — largely courtesy of Jada Pinkett Smith‘s no-nonsense FBI agent and a mysterious villain whose dialogue seems cribbed from Bad Guys for Dummies — Waugh has clearly rescued and revived this franchise.
He gets some help from the pulse-pounding score by David Buckley, who worked with Ben Affleck on Gone Baby Gone and The Town, and who specializes in tough guy movies like Jason Bourne and The Nice Guys. Meanwhile, Cinematographer Jules O’Loughlin (The Hitman’s Bodyguard) and Peter Berg‘s go-to editor Gabriel Fleming (Deepwater Horizon) also deserve credit for maintaining a sense of geography and allowing us to actually make out what’s happening in the fight scenes, which often take place in close quarters. At two hours even, the film runs a little long, and at a reported cost of $80 million, it’s a little too expensive (the first two films cost $70M and $60M, respectively), but every penny is up there on the screen (the CGI looks much better here than in London) and the film never wears out its welcome, even through a surprisingly funny mid-credits scene.