American movie presidents can only make us wistful nowadays, and in Angel Has Fallen the White House is graced by Morgan Freeman himself, as President Allan Trumbull. Yes there is a god, probably also played by Morgan Freeman.
Trumbull has been promoted since London Has Fallen, Mike Banning’s last batshit outing, when taking on hundreds of terrorists across our capital’s tourist attractions led to our favourite Secret Service agent becoming incredibly thirsty.
Banning too is up for promotion this time around, to Head of the Secret Service, now Gentry (Lance Reddick) is retiring.
The plot for Angel Has Fallen is signalled a mile off. It’s so obvious who the bad guy is and who’s in league with him I started to think I was the one being played. There’s also some really useful exposition by telephone call, in case you still aren’t sure, but it never detracted from my enjoyment. This is a terrific ride that careers through action movie tropes with little concern for the intricacies of a decent plot, but with a surprising sensitivity when it comes to father-son relationships.
The third movie in an action franchise is the perfect point to bring on the introspection. We all know the main characters but you can’t really go on blowing up huge numbers of people for the same old reasons. No, by number 3 you want to be blowing up huge numbers of people for slightly different reasons.
For an anti-war film, a hell of a lot of people die: blown up, droned, blown up, burned to a crisp, stabbed, blown up, and shot.
But at least this time we’ve moved away from the evil Middle Eastern terrorists trope – yes, to the delight of those like me who grew up during the Cold War, we’re back to evil Russians.
Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is tired and damaged, even at the start. He’s a wounded bear, self-medicating with painkillers, unable to sleep, concussion leaving him feeling like he’s underwater (cue lots of lingering shots of him looking knackered). Until the fighting starts, which perks him up no end.
His wife wants him home more, his baby daughter is growing up fast, but while waiting for news of his possible new job he still takes in a full-on combat training course at a facility owned by his old Forces buddy Wade Jennings (Danny Huston). Jennings is now a military contractor, a bad sector to be in since Blackwater.
Especially as in the White House, Trumbull is determined to move the Administration away from soldiers for hire fighting America’s wars, and indeed from war itself.
Soon after, a Presidential fishing trip suffers a drone attack, leaving Trumbull in a coma and Banning the only survivor out of nearly 20 secret service personnel. Before Banning even wakes up in hospital the FBI have found a load of supposedly incriminating information about him.
When he comes round, Banning is handcuffed to the bed – less guardian angel and more manacled mutineer. He’s also the no.1 suspect for murder and attempted murder.
Who has set Mike up: Gentry? Vice President Kirby? Wade Jennings? Ethan Hunt? James Bond? Jason Bourne? (Just kidding.)
Does Banning escape? Yes! And pursued by FBI Agent Thompson (Jada Pinkett Smith), he goes off to clear his name and stop the President being finished off for good – which means visiting his old dad Clay in the West Virginian woods.
Clay (a fabulous Nick Nolte) left Mike and his mum after witnessing the horror of the Vietnam War. He’s now a man who loves the simple life, except when it comes to CCTV and booby-traps, of which he has loads (“one step down from the Unabomber” his son calls him).
Angel Has Fallen does try to focus on war and the repercussions for its young fighters, even years down the line; struggles that also tie in to Banning’s own damaged body and psyche.
Though welcome forays into that area are balanced out by traditionally clunky dialogue (“President Trumbull’s top guardian angel has fallen tonight!” says a newscaster).
John Wick this isn’t. Wick got to clatter through Manhattan on a horse, Mike Banning steals an articulated lorry. Wick is pursued by every black-clad assassin in the world, Banning is surprised by two mountain militia men in check shirts at a petrol station. Parabellum has a scene where John Wick’s real name turns out to be Jardani Jovanovich, Angel has one where Mike Banning’s name turns out to be – I kid you not – Michael Banning.
But within the confines of big budget, straight-up action moviemaking, Angel Has Fallen is cracking fun. There’s just enough earnestness about war to make us feel less bad about seeing so many people killed to prevent it, but not so much that we come out feeling we’ve been lectured at a CND rally.
It never flags until the not-quite final showdown, which goes on way too long. Though the final fight, while entirely expected, is well done; I liked its weariness (and, yes, its inevitability).
Piper Perabo as Mike’s wife Leah has little to do beyond looking after an unbearably cute toddler and telling Agent Thompson to fuck off (not in the baby’s presence, so calm the fuck down, modern parents). Jada Pinkett Smith doesn’t get to do much either, apart from chase Banning round the country via a series of very obvious clues, then wonder if she’s made a big mistake. She’s always great but she deserves more.
And do you remember how 2017 was the year of John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads in movies – from Kingsman: The Golden Circle to Logan Lucky to Alien Covenant? Well in Angel Has Fallen they’re constantly running around the woods of West Virginia, and the song doesn’t pop up once. I’d have asked for a refund if I hadn’t been enjoying myself so much.
Despite the fun there aren’t many actual jokes, though neither is it weighed down by its own ponderousness. Still, I like to think Banning’s constant need to be fully hydrated is a sly reminder of his fabulous and plot-pointless “I’m thirsty as FUCK!” line from London Has Fallen; and at one point they rather brilliantly CGI Trumbull into the real G7 Summit photocall (I bet when the other world leaders see it they’ll be wishing it were true).
Note: There’s a mid-credits scene, one of the weirdest I’ve ever watched.
Watch the Angel Has Fallen trailer now:
Watch the clip – DRONES!!!
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Watch the clip – Forest: