Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
ANGEL HAS FALLEN
Rated R, 120 minutes
Directed by: Ric Roman Waugh
It says a lot when a film depends on Nick Nolte to be its comedic savior. But here we are with director Ric Roman Waugh’s ANGEL HAS FALLEN. One of the few times the lumbering, brawny actioner is shaken awake from its inebriated state is when Nolte and series star Gerard Butler banter between explosions as their father and son reunite amidst menacing government conspiracies. This third chapter in the FALLEN franchise has done just that: fallen in entertainment quality and satisfactory thrills.
While the filmmakers have clearly been inspired by THE FUGITIVE and INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE, they lack the fundamental understanding of what makes those films work in order to make their mash-up a success. The story of a wrongly-accused man mending fences with his estranged Dad suffers from a deficiency of smarts and sensations – specifically in the cat-and-mouse game between the hunter and hunted. Banal and behind the times, its leaden qualities overtake whatever intriguing character-driven aspects that might have given it the heft and thematic impact it so desperately craves.
When we last saw Mike Banning (Butler), he was feeling the perils of his high stress, high stakes position as the President’s top secret service director, and pondering resignation altogether. His position on being a responsible new father and husband, choosing family over fidelity to his dangerous job, has somewhat changed in the brief amount of time since. He’s taken a step back on new President Trumbull’s (Morgan Freeman) detail, though he’s in line for that pole position again as soon as current head Gentry (Lance Reddick) retires. Trouble is, Mike’s health and integrity are severely compromised, as he suffers from migraines and pops prescription pills like they’re Tic Tacs.
However, in the week that Mike expects the new job offer, a deadly threat emerges – one that frames him for an assassination attempt on President Trumbull. A struggling private sector agency led by Mike’s former Army buddy, Wade Jennings (Danny Huston), has been hired by a mysterious (or not so mysterious, if you’ve ever seen movies before) entity seeking to start a war with Russia and throw the world into chaos. And they’ve pinned the whole thing on Mike. As the planted evidence mounts, and FBI agent Helen Thompson (Jada Pinkett Smith) gathers up the clues to Mike’s impending exoneration, Mike’s forced to go on the run. He even enlists his bonkers, PTSD-stricken, estranged father Clay’s (Nolte) help.
If this plot – from a story by original series creators Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt and a screenplay by Robert Mark Kamen, Matt Cook and Waugh – sounds rote, dry and flat, that’s because it is. The dialogue and delivery are even worse, and not in the “so bad, it’s good” kind of way. Waugh spends far too much time establishing an overly serious tone to the proceedings, forgetting the original’s fun, light-hearted spirit. Blessedly eschewing LONDON HAS FALLEN’s abhorrent jingoism and conservative sentiments, this follow-up chapter portrays modern militia men as cowards (as shown in the truck stop confrontation between Mike and two gun-toting yokels), and mentions Russians tampering with the election, yet the political pivot remains utterly bland.
Characterizations are weakened as well. Wade’s business woes aren’t compelling enough of a motivator to drive his villainous quest. Mike’s health issues become a moot point by the film’s end. There’s little to no consequences for his negligent behavior – not from his boss, nor from his Wife Who Waits At Home Leah (Piper Perabo, who steps into the lackluster role Radha Mitchell vacated). The filmmakers could’ve tied together the heavy’s failures with the hero’s shortcomings as a husband and a protector, and toyed around with that dynamic. At least then there’d be some tangible weight attached to these characters’ journeys. They don’t. It’s a straight-forward “friends become enemies” narrative. If they lent some wit and pizazz to the fractured father-son relationship, the picture would crackle. Instead, they separate the pair as quickly as they bring them together.
Waugh’s big action set-pieces also don’t serve the narrative well. Half are incoherently shot and assembled, and the other half aren’t indelible or cleverly crafted. The close-quarters fight involving Matt and Wade’s goons in a car is shot in almost complete darkness, close-up, and induces nausea instead of exhilaration. The mercenaries’ midnight descent on Clay’s cabin in the West Virginia wilderness fails to establish a sense of geography before the bodies begin exploding. Plus, the climactic battle in the last act is neither gripping nor well-constructed.
Instead of being excited to see where Banning’s beloved character will go next, this film leaves audiences primarily wanting to see the series put out of its misery. There’s an end credits tag to finish on a note of levity; however, it’s a big ask to expect the audience to stay seated a few minutes longer before bailing.
ANGEL HAS FALLEN opens on August 23.