Perhaps you’ve been on a road trip where you thought you’d make it to your destination in time for lunch, but there was traffic or a detour, and the next thing you know it’s 3:07 and you are starving. You pull over at a rest area and, no, gross, you aren’t going to poison your bowels with Burger King, so you crunch down on that non-chain grilled chicken caesar wrap and it’s like, hey, these tomatoes actually taste fresh, this dressing isn’t globbed on, and there’s a smidgen of care in the sear of these chicken strips.
These bright moments are nothing to dismiss in life, and it’s my major takeaway from Angel Has Fallen, a movie I barely knew existed 24 hours before I ended up in its weirdly captivating thrall.
I saw 2013’s Olympus Has Fallen, not that I remember it too well, and I skipped the sequel London Has Fallen, but I swear you don’t need to have seen either of them. Gerard Butler, looking more and more like Russell Crowe’s baby brother, is Action Hero Man in the guise of a secret service agent. He’s the best there is, like Rambo but pro-government. He and the President (Morgan Freeman) are pals. Standing next to the leader of the free world on a fishing boat is technically work, but he likes it. Why not? They are bros and they’ve been through two action movies together.
But trouble is brewing. Thanks to one exploded grenade in his face too many, Butler (whose character’s extremely regular name is Mike Banning, but may as well be Chest Steel or something) has headaches and can’t sleep. His wife (Piper Perabo) wants him to pack it in and “ride a desk” but his old army buddy/bellicose defense contractor with his own private killsquad college (Danny Huston) knows he’ll never give up the job. Indeed, the two men sit in Adirondack chairs one evening, mooning over the good ol’ days like they are ex-ball players, not warriors-for-hire who machine gun helicopter pilots until they are enveloped in flames.
One day, Mike Banning is out with the Pres on his vacay and, like those weird balloons from the British series The Prisoner, very smart drone-bats appear over a lake, eviscerating the entire secret service detail. “Holy shit!” exclaimed the man next to me, who got into the screening for free. The President comes very close to dying in a fire, but Mike Banning saves him. He doesn’t save himself, though, because we see the murderbats’ POV (computers!) and his name was on a white list. He was never a target. There’s something fishy about this assassination.
When we get to the hospital the President is in a coma and Mike Banning wakes up with more than just a headache. His DNA is all over the van that launched the drones, and there’s a bank account with Russian millions in it, too. He’s being set up! Who will clear Mike Banning’s name? Mike Banning will, you idiot, who else!!?
Soon Mike Banning is on the run. He’s a fugitive, a word I’m using because Mike Banning escapes in a similar way to how Harrison Ford did in The Fugitive. Hey, go with what works, right? Now Mike Banning’s got the FBI and the would-be assassins on his ass.
Of note: I never, ever see a twist coming. All these years of watching stuff and I’m still a sucker. How many masks have come off in Mission: Impossible movies? I gasp every time. I bring this up because I knew who the baddies were in this one immediately. In fact, it was so obvious I thought there had to be a second twist. There wasn’t. It’s ok. Less thinking, more shooting.
There’s a lot of shooting. They shoot in the woods. They shoot on the roads. They shoot in what’s clearly Eastern Europe (Sofia, Bulgaria according to IMDb) trying to pass for a small Pennsylvania city. Under the direction of former stuntman-turned-director Ric Roman Waugh, the action is intense, invigorating, and engaging. At one particularly well-choreographed moment it wasn’t the guy to my right, but I who shouted “holy shit!”
Bodies fly everywhere, glass explodes, trucks topple, there are bullets, knives, snapped spines and moments of mass panic. But it’s never really gross. I’m a renowned wuss for this sort of thing but this violence didn’t disturb me. It never tries to be real, though it isn’t sci-fi or fantasy bloodshed, either. That’s part of what differentiates the Fallen series, which, who would have guessed it, somehow made it to its third entry. I mean, we still don’t have a third National Treasure. Hell, for decades there were only three Star Wars movies!!
There are no robots who turn into cars, no portals to another realm, no one that could be called a metahuman. Just Mike Banning. There are, when you think about it, very few movies released in theaters with this level of action (even if the CG is hardly top notch) where everyone in it just a normal human being. Sure, their actions defy common sense, but it’s mostly muscle and firepower, not gadgets or tech winning the battle. Angel Has Fallen is the type of movie that gets pumped out direct to video, only it’s got just enough of a budget to make it worthy of the theaters, and also your time.
It also has Nick Nolte as Gerard Butler’s off-the-grid, armed-to-the-teeth, ex-military whacko father, and I swear to you his scenes start off goofy but end up being just a little bit touching. There’s even a soupçon of mature discussion about PTSD (basically, the Fallen producers feel, seeing a shrink won’t make you a pussy, if you’ll forgive the coarseness of my language) but it’s not too in-your-face about it. Fear not, this isn’t a message movie. And I would not be surprised if there’s a fourth entry focusing more on father-and-son.
Angel Has Fallen isn’t high art, but it’s a crowdpleaser. The dialogue sounds like they employed an English-to-Idiot translation book, with howlers like “we found an encrypted photo on the dark web!” But sometimes you just have to pull into a rest stop and grab something to eat. When you do, it’s nice to know there are decent options.
Angel Has Fallen opens nationwide on Aug. 23.