Angel Has Fallen Review

How on Earth is it possible that there are three films in the …Has Fallen franchise? The series has somehow managed to extend across six years with a trio of grim action-adventures wherein a gruff Secret Service agent is the one true hero who can withstand all sorts of terrorists and protect the President. Now we have Angel Has Fallen, in which that one true hero is on the lam after being accused of a crime he didn’t commit: attempting to kill the President. The end result is a generic action thriller that would’ve made a killing by being rerun on TNT ad nauseam back in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Once again, and hopefully for the last time, Gerard Butler plays dedicated Secret Serviceman Mike Banning, whose very name evinces the same cartoonishly masculine air that he embodies from the very first scene. Mike is dour and mostly humorless, unless he’s just sitting back and enjoying a brewski or two with an old military bud (Danny Huston). His wife (Piper Perabo) adores him even as he’s not a very present father to their young daughter, and even as Mike hides the fact that he’s popping pills to mask pain from old concussions. Though his glory days are behind him, Mike can’t get soppy for too long: during a fishing trip, a series of drones attacks him, other Secret Service agents, and the President (Morgan Freeman). The head of state merely winds up in a coma, but Mike is framed as the mastermind of the attack, and goes on the run to clear his name.

There is, to be clear, literally no suspense regarding Mike and his innocence. Gerard Butler could arguably play a bad guy as easily as he plays the white knight, but Mike is predictably the hero. Of course, the real problem with Angel Has Fallen is that every beat of the film is painfully predictable and lacking in suspense. Hey, how about that old military bud of Mike’s who we never met before this movie? You know, the one played by Danny Huston, who’s essentially cornered the market on playing dudes who are up to no good? Is he maybe directly involved in framing Mike? And is it possible that he’s secretly working with another character, one who may well be played by another very recognizable actor? That there is no surprise to be had in Angel Has Fallen could be forgiven if the script, credited to, among others, director Ric Roman Waugh, felt more lively or unexpected on the whole.

To the film’s credit, one part of the story does end up being a lot more surprising than you’d think. As Mike escapes from one obstacle, he winds up in the backwoods of West Virginia intentionally. It’s there that he finds a scruffy, bearded old man…his father, played by the scruffy, bearded Nick Nolte. Leave aside whether or not it seems that believable that Nick Nolte could be Gerard Butler’s father in terms of looks. The subplot between the two men, with Mike feeling some of the bitterness again at his father abandoning him as a youth, could have been a lot more perfunctory were it not for Nolte’s intense commitment to making his character multifaceted and emotionally complex. 

On one hand, full marks to Nick Nolte: where a lot of this movie is phoning it in, he is absolutely giving his all. On the other hand…well, a lot of this movie is phoning it in, such that Nolte’s almost trying too hard. But he is, in his few scenes, easily this film’s best part and a fine reminder that he’s one of our better older actors, and should be given more great material.

Of course, the reality is that Angel Has Fallen really isn’t close to great material. Nolte’s fine work aside, this movie is going through the motions from top to bottom. It never approaches the same nastiness or brutishness of Olympus Has Fallen or London Has Fallen (which are both real movies that really made money, enough to lead to another one of these). Waugh isn’t a standout action director, but it’d be unfair to suggest that the various shoot-’em-up sequences are handled poorly. 

The entire thing isn’t exactly bad. It’s just…there. This movie exists. It doesn’t seem to exist for anything other than to be a new thing you can see in theaters this weekend. You don’t have to, but hey, if you’re bored, why not? There’s a general, unavoidable sense of the perfunctory surrounding Angel Has Fallen. It will remind you of other films, everything from The Fugitive to The Dark Knight. It’s not offensive, it’s not actively obnoxious, and really, Angel Has Fallen isn’t much of anything. It’s the feature-length definition of the word “forgettable”.

/Film Rating: 4 out of 10

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About the Author

Josh Spiegel is a Phoenix-based critic & writer. He's one of the hosts of Mousterpiece Cinema, a podcast about Disney films. He's also written a book of criticism on Pixar, titled Yesterday is Forever: Nostalgia and Pixar Animation Studios.