Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) has seen more action in his career as a Secret Service Agent than most superheroes see in a lifetime, but Angel Has Fallen pits the rugged hero against a new threat to the president he is sworn to protect: himself.In the second sequel to 2013’s Olympus Has Fallen, Banning is dealing with a mild addiction to painkillers stemming from a series of concussions he’s suffered on the job throughout his career, keeping his physical struggles a secret from his wife Leah (Piper Perabo, taking over for Radha Mitchell) and his superiors, President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) and Secret Service Director David Gentry (Lance Reddick).
Early on, we’re introduced to an old Army buddy of Banning’s, Wade Jennings (Danny Huston), who is now operating his own high-level private security firm. Through this relationship, we’re introduced to the intended throughline of Angel Has Fallen: can “lions” like Banning and Jennings, who thrive on the front lines being in the action, make the transition to being a man behind the scenes when their body tells them it’s time to quit? When do the sacrifices you’ve made in the line of duty finally become enough? This is the Major scale on which the film attempts to improvise to mixed success.
As is par for the course of the Fallen series, the president—former Vice President Trumbull is now Commander-in-Chief supported by new VP Kirby (Tim Blake Nelson)—is the target of an assassination attempt that leaves him comatose and all but one member of Banning’s team, Banning himself, dead. For reasons that unfold rather clumsily in the first act of the movie, FBI Special Agent Helen Thompson (a severely underutilized Jada Pickett Smith) considers Banning suspect number one and the hunt is on.
This is where the movie gets going as it turns away from its hunt-a-terrorist roots and transforms into a more rudimentary version of The Fugitive before culminating in a Raid-lite hailstorm of bullets and squibs.
Angel sports some conceptually fun set pieces that are marred by hyper-speed editing and lighting choices that seem to be masquerading as stylistic decisions but are more likely covering up some poor choreography. Still, a moody car chase through dark, woody terrain involving Banning’s hijacking of a semi-truck is refreshingly bulky and realistic in a world where complete terrorist takeovers of Washington D.C. and London have become the norm.
The movie shines brightest when it focuses on the macro action—shootouts and explosions—rather than the micro, more personal hand-to-hand combat it attempts from time to time. It’s astonishing to watch the climactic gun battle showcase a workable understanding of geography and timing, only to see it evaporate when it comes down to a rooftop battle between our hero and the villain. The same goes for a few sequences early on in which Banning takes down some baddies with his bare knuckles; scenes that should be riveting and showcase the resolve of our hero but are instead lost in the muck of quick cuts and indistinguishable snarling faces.
The said, Angel Has Fallen finds a better balance between the hyper-violence of Olympus and the misplaced self-importance of London Has Fallen, swirling around some interesting ideas about giving one’s country everything and it not returning the favor. This element of the film picks up most notably with the introduction of Banning’s estranged, paranoid father, Clay (a scene-stealing Nick Nolte), himself a veteran of war wrestling with his own demons.
The strained relationship of the Banning boys, mired in the conflict between Mike’s sense of duty and Clay’s conviction that the government will demand everything of you but give nothing in return, is the most compelling relationship in the movie and retroactively makes Mike’s desire to recognize a father figure in Trumbull more understandable. It presents the kernels of an exploration of masculinity, country, and PTSD that could have turned Angel into a more thoughtful piece of work if it had such aspirations, but instead settles comfortably back into the No Guts, No Glory mentality this series has championed from the beginning. Instead of digging deep into these issues, Angel settles on a few well-acted scenes between Butler and Nolte to do the trick before justifying a return to form.
Similarly, Angel recycles familiar twists and turns that we’ve seen many times over in films of a similar ilk—including the Fallen moves themselves. If you’ve seen the other entries in the series once or twice and watched the trailer for Angel, it’s not a difficult task to formulate the plot of this paint-by-numbers action thriller.
Despite the all-too-familiar beats of betrayal, Butler’s Banning remains a stalwart, black-and-white hero with relatable struggles (insofar as addiction and pain management are relatable, not so much the protecting-the-president part). The character won’t go down in the annals of the Action Hero Hall of Fame, but Butler continues to do his best with the material to formulate a character who tries to balance his killer instinct with the better, less violent man he wants to be.