Film Review – Angel Has Fallen
Angel Has Fallen
Every once and awhile, a little junk food cinema is good for the soul. Sure, there’s plenty of space for hard hitting examinations of society, delving deep into the complexities of life through mature writing, exquisite acting, and pitch perfect directing. Other times, it’s just a lot of fun to see stuff blow up. Action is cinematic by its very nature, allowing us to partake in all the suspense and thrill in the safety of a movie theater.
That’s where Angel Has Fallen (2019) comes into play. This is the third film of the Fallen series, with Olympus Has Fallen (2013) and London Has Fallen (2016) preceding it. These are not classic films – in fact, they are far from it. They operate in a throwback style, with tough guys engaging in hand to hand combat or epic shoot outs. This is the kind of stuff Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, or Sylvester Stallone thrived in decades ago. And I think that’s the same kind of arena Gerard Butler operates best in – where his biggest requirement is to simply look badass while taking down bad guys.
In fact, as Butler ages, he becomes a more interesting action lead. In Angel Has Fallen, his secret service agent, Mike Banning, is a little rough around the edges. We can see the wrinkles beginning to show, and the sculpted body of 300 (2006) has been replaced with a pudgy frame. After years of combat experience, Mike now suffers from headaches along with back and neck problems. His wife (Piper Perabo) wonders when he will stop living by the gun, just as U.S. President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) considers appointing him director of the Secret Service. That’s a lot on one person’s plate, and we haven’t even got into the action.
While the screenplay (Matt Cook, Robert Mark Kamen, Ric Roman Waugh) attempts to give Banning these multiple character traits, it knows full well what the audience is coming in for, and it’s the action. When Banning is suspected of a plot to assassinate President Trumbull, he must go on the run to clear his name and bring the actual perpetrators to justice. In the meantime, Jada Pinkett Smith’s determined FBI agent hunts him down. If this premise sounds a little like the one from The Fugitive (1993), well, you wouldn’t be wrong. This is a throwback, after all.
In a time where action movies consist of super powered beings flying through the galaxy fighting purple skinned monsters, seeing a more grounded story comes as a breath of fresh air. The Fallen series isn’t going to go down as one of the great action franchises, but it has been marked with some nicely constructed set pieces. A nighttime car chase incorporates an extra bit of suspense given that it takes place in a forest on an unlit dirt road. The camera placement captures the flickering headlights through the shadows, warning us that at any moment the vehicles could crash into a tree or go flying over a ravine. There’s also a ton – and I mean a ton – of explosions. Michael Bay would be jealous of the amount of explosions set off here, it must be some kind of record. The special effects makes them appear real, especially during a hilarious set piece where Banning runs into his long lost father (Nick Nolte).
Fans of militaristic gunplay will get their money’s worth. Ric Roman Waugh’s direction and Jules O’Loughlin’s cinematography takes extra care of showing characters duck behind corners as bullets go flying over their heads. Shoot outs are big, loud, and messy. Thankfully, unlike other action pictures, we aren’t bombarded by a chaotic picture to the point where we are unable to grasp what’s going on. The sense of geography is expressed well. When a group of soldiers enter a room expecting to find someone, the camerawork and editing lays out where everyone is in relation to each other, and how one office could get mistaken for another.
I’m not going to try and convince you that the character development and dialogue are exceptional, because they aren’t. Everything operates as a slim foundation for the action to step on. Once Banning goes on his mission to clear his name, almost all of the emotional drama gets swept aside in service to the plot. Even Nick Nolte’s character – whose relationship with Mike is supposed to be a high point of narrative tension – just kind of sits there in neutral. You know the narrative doesn’t place much importance on character motivation when you have a villain that lays out a carefully planned scheme, realizes things aren’t going their way, and decides to throw it all out of the window and simply improvise the rest of the way.
Angel Has Fallen does what advertisements says it’ll do, and sometimes that’s all one can ask for. It arrives on the heels of another action franchise installment, Hobbs & Shaw (2019). Why did I like the former more than the latter? Why do some people like Burger King instead of McDonalds?