Review: Angel Has Fallen

Distributor: Lionsgate
Director: Ric Roman Waugh
Writer: Robert Mark Kamen, Matt Cook, Ric Roman Waugh
Composer: David Buckley
Starring: Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Jada Pinkette Smith, Tim Blake Nelson, Danny Huston, Nick Nolte 

 

In the realm of movies that rip-off Die Hard, Olympus Has Fallen is notable in that it… exists. It’s certainly not nearly as awesome as Under Siege. That said, it’s somehow managed to persist as a mid to low tier action franchise to the point now where it’s been greenlit for sequels twice. Angel Has Fallen being the third film in a defacto trilogy now is mostly notable in so far as that it’s managed to keep a barely functional action series alive six years after it should’ve ended… and honestly it kind of worked for me! 

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: Characters are shot, stabbed and explode, characters bleed. Dead bodies are shown but no extreme gore.

Language/Crude Humor: Severe language throughout including multiple uses of f*** and s***.

Sexual Content: Crass sexual language.

Other Negative Content: Characters lie, bribe and attempt to assassinate one another for political gain.

Positive Content: Anti-war themes, themes of seeking the truth and defending life.

Review

The franchise that began with Olympus Has Fallen has always felt more than a hair out of step with the rest of modern Hollywood. Here is a series running on the basic moral and socio-political complexity of Red Dawn and Invasion USA being given the serious tone and tension of a Christopher Nolan movie. Here are movies that approach serious modern political conflicts like North Korean provocation and radical Islamic terrorism with the binary morality of an 1980s action film.

As much as most people can generally agree that terrorism and tyrannical dictatorships are bad, most of Hollywood has moved to a place of moral relativism to the point where it’s pretty uncommon to depict foreign countries or ideologies as villainous. Generally now our bad guys are entirely fictional as is the case with The First Order and Hydra. Nowadays we like our villains in the form of abstractions.

There’s almost something subtly subversive about a film series that does the opposite of that. Still it’s hard to say they are necessarily about any of the issues they poke fun at. The plots never interrogate the nature of modern politics in the way even a partisan political thriller written by Tom Clancy or John Le Carre would. Olympus Has Fallen and its now two sequels aren’t strictly about the issues involved in modern geo-politics so they mostly get away scot-free with getting to disabuse other countries as uncomplicated bad guys.

Olympus Has Fallen came out in 2013 and was directed by Antoine Fuqua, my favorite workman director pumping out uncompromisingly masculine  middle-market action movies like The Equalizer, The Magnificent Seven, and Southpaw (also Training Day but that one is kind of a fluke). This first entry of the franchise had the singular strength of being surprisingly brutal and suspenseful for what was otherwise a low budget remake of Die Hard. It was also weird that it shared the same premise as Rolland Emmerich’s White House Down which is also about a group of terrorists conspiring to take over the White House to accomplish some unstated political goal. One can assume some studio realized that the other was making similar story so the other quickly set to capitalize on it as Hollywood studios are want to do. Clearly some producer at Lionsgate thought, “We can get OUR <noun> movie out in theater before Sony does!”

Three years later we got a direct sequel with London Has Fallen which merely takes the premise of the first movie and expands it out to the entire city of London. It’s unremarkable. Now we finally have a third film to round out this mostly forgettable trilogy. The incredibly silly-named Angel Has Fallen rounds out the saga with a smaller more personal story (sorta) following the series lead Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) as a secret service agent as he must find a way yet again to save President Allen Trumbull. 

To be honest I totally forgot the President was named Trumbull but he was named that in 2013 when the character was just the Speaker of the House and it’s a pure coincidence that the movie doesn’t comment upon. I nearly did a spit take though. 

The big gimmick this time however is that instead of Banning being one security guard on duty amidst a larger conflict, Banning is the entire narrative. Banning is framed for attempting to murder the president and has to go on the run and figure out who’s trying to kill Trumbull. There are additional subplots about Banning starting to become too old and physically ill to maintain his job in the field as well him possibly getting a promotion but they aren’t terribly relevant to the plot and don’t really go anywhere. 

The most interesting character in the film ends up being Nic Nolte playing Banning’s estranged father. He’s a paranoid conspiracy theorist living in the middle of the wilderness alone with nothing but a radio and a typewriter off the grid. His character ends up being the most surprising as an unexpectedly somber character who hasn’t gotten over his Vietnam experiences and who needs to learn how to connect with his son for the first time. He gets the most convincing story arc and easily the best performance. Nolte adds a lot of great minor flourishes to a performance that could’ve easily just been written off as a pay-for-work gig. While the payoff is relatively minimal in the overall narrative, I can’t say the movie isn’t infinitely better for including him. 

I should note I’m quite fond of these films as I am with many bad modern action films which I obviously shouldn’t be (See also: Transformers, Death Wish, Gods of Egypt). They’re dumb but they’re consistently amusing distractions. If anything these are counter programming for me. They’re so uncomplicated and absurd that I find it easy to get engrossed in them. They’re indulgent and stupid but I enjoy them in the same way I enjoy dollar-store pulp spy novels.

I’ve read several critics who openly call out the Olympus Has Fallen trilogy for perceived xenophobia or for being mildly conservative in their outlook but honestly these movies don’t have almost any coherent things to say about any of the real world conflicts they’re using for their stories. Maybe there is some reactionary subtext you could read into them but the Korean and Middle-Eastern terrorists didn’t strike me as overly xenophobic portrayals beyond just making them the villains.

Like I said before, we don’t see that many real world factions in modern action cinema as much as we used to. Angel Has Fallen in particular is probably more easily spared than its predecessors given that most of the enemies fought in the movies are PMCs (private military companies) and mercenaries. There are some allusions to Russian election meddling you could probably read a message into but of the three this film feels the least politically charged. 

Really though there’s not much to be said about Angel Has Fallen. It’s mid-budget action and really only appeals to people who went out of their way to watch the previous two movies (like myself). It’s not even the best big dumb action flick we’ve gotten this August considering we just had Hobbs and Shaw in theaters a few weeks ago. You can pretty much know if you’re the market but watching the trailer. It’s schlock but it’s my kind of schlock. It’s my favorite bad movie of 2019! 


 

Positives

+ Great Nic Nolte Performance + Handful of Fun Action Scenes

Negatives

- Arguably Objectionable Politics - Weak Plot - Weak Performances - Limited Interesting Themes Given the Hot Button Subject Matter

The Bottom Line

Did you like the first two movies? If you did, go see it. If not, don't bother.

 

5.6

Tyler Hummel

Born into the unexplored residential backwater of Chicago, Tyler Hummel is a graduate of Tribeca Flashpoint College where he studied Sound Design for Film and Interactive Media. When he isn't hosting his public access talk show The Fox Valley Film Critics or collecting DragonBall Z figurines, he enjoys writing and directing short films. As with Rick from Casablanca, "he's a man like any other man, just more so!"

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