When you get around to the third film of an action franchise, there needs as with each installment to be something that happens to push the stakes (or at least the action) further than before. We need to continue to care about the characters at least enough to have us stick around for a few hours. In “Angel has Fallen,” it seems that even with a team of five writers they couldn’t manage to thread together a through line that could make sense for a single hour, let alone two.
Back in 2013’s “Olympus has Fallen,” Gerard Butler first stepped into the character of secret service agent Mike Banning, and came across bad guys intent on causing him to have a long day at the office. Of the two, “terrorists have invaded the White House” films to come out that year, it was by far the better one. It had a certain level of internal logic, the action was solid, and a few of the set pieces were actually exciting. Butler was able to come off more or less as a believable member of the President’s secret service detail.
Jumping past “London has Fallen,” about which the less said the better (after opening with an amazing initial terrorist attack sequence settled into a strict by-the-numbers affair), we get to this latest installment, and there’s a lot to unpack.
Butler is still part of the Presidential detail, and secret service director David Gentry (played by Lance Reddick) is about to retire and Butler is the one expected to step into the role. Unfortunately the new President (played by Morgan Freeman) wants to eliminate the use of private security contractors (read: mercenaries) and so the people who would have stood to lose billions decide to assassinate the President and put the blame on Butler. In the midst of all of this, Butler is suffering from chronic pain due to his prior injuries as well as now being addicted to painkillers. There’s nothing at all wrong with those later character issues, in fact it’s clearly an attempt to make him more sympathetic as well as a timely topic of the opioid epidemic. However nothing at all is really done with those aspects – while the film takes great pains to show him popping pills like so many tic-tacs during the first hour as well as being in constant pain from headaches. As soon as the bullets start flying, the film drops the topic on the cutting room floor never to be seen again. During the first half of the film he’s shown to be doing so poorly at his job, there hasn’t been a stronger case from immediate desk duty since “Homeland”‘s Carrie.
The various machinations of the bad guys has all the subtlety and realism of a later season of 24. Butler’s Banning never connects as someone you want to root for, there’s never any particular tension, and the notion that he’s an active part of secret service, let alone anywhere near the President just comes off as unbelievable. The action scenes aren’t really up to a contemporary level – and the only somewhat surprising twist is a pair of deaths late in the film that are handled almost as an aside, but winds up as falling tone-deaf.
For action fans, it might be better to wait for Netflix; for Gerard Butler fans, it might be best to wait even longer.
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars.
“Angel Has Fallen” is currently playing in theaters.