Movie Review: ‘Angel Has Fallen’

As I left the theater the other night, I began to think about the connection between humanity and expectations. As a species, expectations are a massive part of our everyday lives. At every turn, we expect something. When reality fails to live up to our expectations, there are few feelings that replicate such disappointment. But when our expectations extend beyond our wildest dreams, it’s one of the best feelings in the world. Such is the case with “Angel Has Fallen.” After the dismal “London Has Fallen,” I was insanely skeptical about this sequel. After all, as a series continues, its quality decreases, most of the time anyway. But boy, was I wrong. 

Like “Olympus Has Fallen,” this film follows Mike Banning, a Secret Service agent. One day, while the President attempts to fish, a horde of drones attack Mike’s team. The crew gets wiped out, but Mike and the President survive the ordeal. Upon waking up, Mike realizes that he has been framed. The government places him under arrest, and in classic fashion, Mike attempts to uncover a corrupt plan. 

One of the reasons “Olympus Has Fallen” worked so well was because it employed emotional elements of human existence, like guilt and redemption. Of course, these elements are simple concepts that we have seen a million times in movies. However, I contend that in a world consisting of many complications and convolutions, these themes of simplicity are perfect for cinematic escapism. “Angel Has Fallen” takes the same route. In a wise turn of events, the film actually attempts to flesh out Mike as a human being. 

Before Mike becomes a fugitive, we are given a taste of his trials and tribulations. As the leader of the Secret Service enters retirement, Mike prepares himself for a potential promotion. Normally, this would be cause for celebration, but Mike, a man with an abundance of mileage, is falling apart. Insomnia and pills are his best friends. Migraines repeat themselves. His nerves are shot. Overall, he’s a shell of what he was in “Olympus Has Fallen.” And yet, he attempts to sustain a strong image. He hides his unhealthy lifestyle, and as a result, communication is minimized. 

As Mike Banning, Gerard Butler turns in an exceptional performance. With his tough persona and exhausted vibes, Butler creates a hero with a human complex, a far cry from the inferior cinematic figures that consist of superhuman components. Unfortunately, as Mike fights his opponents, the film conveniently throws his personal problems by the wayside, but due to Butler’s performance, this disappearing act isn’t as big of a flaw as it could be. 

The screenwriters (Robert Mark Kamen, Matt Cook and Ric Roman Waugh) must be commended for their efforts. 

Unlike many popcorn flicks, “Angel Has Fallen” focuses on deep forms of human adversity. In particular, the flick showcases the dire aftereffects of being a soldier. We see two other veterans, Wade Jennings (Danny Huston) and Clay Banning (Nick Nolte). Like Mike, these men are representations of how soldiers deal with a violent existence. Wade, an old friend of Mike’s, wants to prolong his soldier lifestyle, and if he has to tear down the walls of democracy, he will do so without a shade of hesitation. Clay (Mike’s father), a Vietnam veteran, abandoned his family years ago. When we meet him, it’s clear that hopelessness, familial misgivings and an anti-authoritarian attitude has consumed his life. 

Credit must be given to Danny Huston and Nick Nolte. Sometimes, when performers become part of an action flick, they turn in uninspired performances. In this case, Huston and Nolte are lighting in a bottle. They become powerful renditions of humanstic imperfection. Huston’s sinister performance creates a horrifically realistic character, representing the addictive nature of war. Nolte’s sensitivity and blunt humor form a cinematic anchor, capable of injecting the series with a much needed dose of adrenaline. 

Once the characters are caught in the fireworks, the action, for the most part, is adequate. The film commits itself to situational versatility. One minute, we are on a boat, steering clear of drone attacks, which perfectly represent the scariness of technological objects. The next minute, we are part of a vehicular chase that taps into the idea of being outnumbered and outgunned. As a whole, every set piece feels somewhat different from the other. 

This film was directed by Ric Roman Waugh, a man accustomed to crafting tough, male-driven pictures (“Felon,” “Snitch,” and “Shot Caller”). He’s definitely a filmmaker of pyrotechnic sensibilities. After a certain point, I lost count of how many explosions there were. Eventually, we can predict the cycle of action. An explosion will go off. A person will fly to the left or right. Then, the cycle repeats itself. 

All in all, Waugh’s pyrotechnic methods give the film a recurring sense of amusement. Part of the joy in witnessing these explosions is seeing the reaction shots of specific characters. For example, when Clay lets off a series of explosions in the woods, Mike’s reactions are comedic gold. The action is simple, yes, but Butler and Nolte’s professionalism create an emotional atmosphere that goes above and beyond the confines of mindless violence. Their chemistry sets the stage for a satisfying arc, consisting of familial improvement. 

Unfortunately, when it comes to the handling of action scenes, there are glaring flaws. At times, when the fighting transpires, Waugh utilizes pointless close-ups, taking away the visual fluidity of physical conflicts. We are led to believe that these men are professionals with years of combat experience, but instead, the jumpy camerawork and choppy editing make them look like inexperienced goofballs. There were many instances when I simply could not tell what was going on.

The ending pits two crews of professionals against one another. Waugh’s affinity for over the shoulder shots give us unique windows into the action. We become immersed in the explosive atmosphere, and because of the actors’ ferocity (especially Butler and Huston’s), the conflict takes on a form of brutal realism. It’s a powerful climax, connected to the unfortunate transformation of specific soldiers who are unable to move on from bloody battlefields. But in the end, there is an undying theme of hope, perfectly paralleling the feel good nature of most blockbusters. 

I recommend “Angel Has Fallen.” Grab a big bag of popcorn. Get a huge drink. Feast on some candy. Then, sit back and enjoy what the silver screen has to offer. You’re in good hands. 

My Grade:  B

Dillon McCarty can be contacted at [email protected]