The “Fallen” series is one that’s hard to track in an alphabetical listing because it’s the first word that keeps changing with each new installment. That’s just one way in which this series is an inconvenience. Another is that 2013’s “Olympus Has Fallen” detracted from the superior White-House-in-turmoil actioner “White House Down,” which unjustly bombed presumably because it had the gall to come out three months later. And I’ll throw in another: these movies always feature initial attack scenes so violent that I can’t help but feel that no matter how many terrorists Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) kills in turn, the war is already lost.
I wasted two hours of a perfectly good day off last week watching “Olympus Has Fallen” for research when all I really needed to do was discern that Banning is a stand-in for John McClane or Jack Bauer or any other impossibly competent action hero. After watching that film (and highlights of 2016’s “London Has Fallen,” which was not available to me in full), I was dreading having to see third installment “Angel Has Fallen.” Fortunately those low expectations worked to the film’s benefit, because I didn’t detest it as much as I thought I would.
The plot sees Banning’s body gradually failing him following years of President-saving. He may have to settle for a dreaded desk job (as the director of the Secret Service, so cry me a river), even though his reason for being is to protect President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman). An attempt is made on Trumbull’s life that leaves the President in a coma and 18 Secret Service agents dead, with Banning as the lone survivor. Evidence has been planted that makes it look like Banning is behind the attack, so the second act of the movie is more of a “Fugitive” knockoff than a “Die Hard” knockoff. Who framed Banning? Could it possibly be defense contractor Wade Jennings (Danny Huston), the only suspect? Someone powerful is helping the person behind the attack, could it possibly be Vice President Kirby (Tim Blake Nelson), again the only suspect?
And then, just when the movie seems to be at its most uninspired, along comes Nick Nolte as Banning’s estranged father. Someone forgot to tell Nolte that this film is disposable garbage, because he puts all he has into this role. I was hanging on his every word, no easy feat considering his snoring-while-awake voice. The man is funny and emotional enough to elevate the material to where, for a few minutes, I was ready to give this movie an overall positive review. It didn’t last, and I would probably would have thought better of it anyway because so much about this movie is painfully by-the-numbers, but in those scenes it makes an admirable effort to earn my approval.
If you’ve ever seen a “Fallen” movie before, you can probably predict the pattern of the action: big violent initial attack by the bad guys, then some stealthy intimate attacks by Banning as he fights to undercut the bad guys without drawing attention to himself, then an escalating series of body counts as the bad guys learn they have to take out one last threat, and finally a big shootout at the end where the bad guys have a seemingly endless army of henchman who are willing to betray their country and not one of them can take out the tired, wounded Banning. You can probably predict the pattern of non-violent behavior too: where one-liners will come in, how the cat-and-mousing between Banning and the bad guys will go, how the reconciliation between Banning and his father will play out. The passion from Nolte is a nice surprise that lends the movie some much-needed respectability, but otherwise “Angel Has Fallen” is exactly the movie I expected it to be, and I expected a tiresome thriller.
“Angel Has Fallen” is rated R for violence and language throughout. Its running time is 121 minutes.
Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.