The third entry in Gerard Butler’s mil-porn series about patriot dads is almost saved by the sudden appearance of a wild Nick Nolte.
There’s something about Gerard Butler: no matter what, trouble always seems to find him. And not just normal trouble: recently, it’s the kind of specific trouble that involves multiple explosions, forgettable villains, and a cavalcade of extras that are there to only nudge the plot forward or die when convenient for the proper emotions. Wrap that in a package of political intrigue and you got yourself the standard Butler Action Drama. It’s a style that Gerard has ridden all the way to the bank since his first formidable performance in 300 and, judging by the minimal amount of care thrown into Angel Has Fallen, it doesn’t look like producers are anywhere near done with this easy-to-follow formula that hasn’t been exciting or surprising since the bonkers classic Geostorm. But hey, the horse is dead, so they might as well flog it as long as they can.
Angel Has Fallen is the third of the Fallen series, which focuses on Secret Service super-agent Mike Banning (Butler). After fighting off the North Koreans in Olympus Has Fallen and cringeworthy Middle Eastern terrorists in London Has Fallen, Mike is left with the decision of whether to become the head of the Secret Service or to retire. Seeing as how a doctor warns him his body is on the verge of full-on breaking from a lifetime of action-concussions and his addiction to opioids, retiring really isn’t the worst of ideas.
But all goes awry when a
super-obvious “mysterious” villain attempts to kill new president Alan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman). Mike saves the President but is subsequently framed for the assassination, arrested by the World’s Worst FBI Agent (Jada Pinkett Smith) and taken into custody. That is, until a shadowy group hacks the 2003 Chevy Astro that is carrying him to prison, frees him (inadvertently), and Mike goes off on a classic tale of retribution.
Taking the helm for this turn is stunt man-turned-director Ric Roman Waugh. It can make a lot of sense having a stunt expert behind the camera for an action movie, especially one who ostensibly knows how to build on moments and ramp up the energy of a setpiece. Waugh, sadly, is not that kind of director. The majority of the action is that kind of jump-cut fighting that’s been out of style since the 2010s; the camera never lingers long enough on an action scene for the punches and gunshots to mean anything. It’s frantic in a way that’s far more confusing than exciting, making the action scenes more than a little boring. Waugh doesn’t seem to have the patience to allow a scene to linger nor when he has let the camera stay for far too long during non-fighting conversation. Even with a tighter script, the sloppy direction completely derails anything the dialogue would bring to the table.
At least the script takes the franchise in a few interesting directions, at least at first. Written by Robert Mark Kamen (Taken) and tweaked by Waugh & Matt Cook (Patriots Day), there are some moments of real risk in Banning’s character. He gives a tone similar to Logan: a man dangerously past his prime, on the verge of death, but too addicted to his own sense of duty to stop. The set-up hints that Banning won’t just be fighting the shadowy group that is trying to kill the president, but also the limitations of his own aging body. One punch might literally kill him. Hell, even one slip-and-fall could, if his doctor is right. But once the action starts, he might as well be fully cured. Sure, he has some wooziness at times, but it’s never enough to make it feel like Banning is in actual danger. The first fifteen minutes might as well not even exist.
But then… an angel appears. An hour into the movie, Mike is on the run in the woods of West Virginia. He is running to his only hope for him and the audience: Nick Nolte. Sure, Nolte is playing Mike’s father, but he’s more than that. He is a whole new movie that, for a brief twenty minutes, becomes a glimpse into a full-length film that could have been. The chemistry between Butler and Nolte is excellent, and even genuinely hilarious at moments.
It has this vibrant feel of a backwoods Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade: the straight-laced Mike and his SovCit father joining forces despite a general dislike of son towards father. Miraculously enough, Butler honestly begins to shine once Nolte shows up. No longer having to act off of punches and manly-man-men grumblings, Nolte’s unpredictability allows Butler to show off his straight-man comedy chops. It works so, so well and it’s a magnificent bummer when the pair part ways.
Also, telling you that Danny Huston and a non-comedic Tim Blake Nelson (who are both base-level fine for what they are given) are in the movie might qualify as spoilers for the two pseudo-twists the movie attempts.
It’s frantic in a way that’s far more confusing than exciting, making the action scenes more than a little boring.
Admittedly, in a movie this jumbled, it would be odd to point out a small one-line performance, but in a sea of flat performances, the brief bit of character work done by Derek Siow‘s mercenary hacker has to be briefly mentioned. Surrounded in a sea full of men making tough guy grunt decisions and very little else, Siow stands out in that he seems to be the only person in this bugfuck organization who’s doing it because he loves causing chaos. His small moment of glee before blowing up a hospital deserves a special mention in this otherwise muddy motion picture.
The Angel trilogy has never been accused of being high-brow action, but the series seems to have been held aloft on the fumes of Antoine Fuqua’s bombastic first entry to the series. In this third attempt, Angel Has Fallen, here’s hoping that the series can’t get up again.
Angel Has Fallen rides into theaters on a bald eagle’s wings August 23.