Gerard Butler has been saving the president from potential threats for six years now, with his trio of Has Fallen films where he plays Mike Banning. Angel Has Fallen, directed by Ric Roman Waugh, is bigger and arguably better than its predecessors. The film brings large action set pieces, explosions, and a story with the most depth than others in the series.
In Angel Has Fallen, Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Butler) is set up after a failed assassination attempt on President Alan Trumball (Morgan Freeman). After being taken in by the authorities he escapes his captors and begins tracking down the real threat to the president. Banning must do this all while evading the FBI and his own agency as he races to uncover the truth, which requires him to reach out to unlikely allies.
First and foremost, you know what you’re getting when you enter a film in this series, and Angel Has Fallen delivers exactly what’s on the tin. It’s loud and it’s explosive and its pace is breathtakingly fast, and overall works. After opening the film to Mike and his family, we learn about how the events of the previous films are taking a toll on his health and well-being. We get lulled into the film and then everything hits the fan. From the assassination attempt forward, the film moves quickly and maintains a pace that lets you recover from the last action sequence without losing any of the steam.
The flow of the film is helped tremendously by its fight scenes and watching Butler in his element. When he goes one to one with opponents his talent shines, and they work as a nice buffer between an entire forest exploding and car chases down windy Virginia roads. That said, the film editing stumbles during the larger gunfights, moving between positions of various shooters with a speed that is slightly disorienting. When you add in the use of a shaky came in darkly lit scenes it does miss the mark on perfect action but not by much.
Now, when it comes to the dialogue, while it is cheesy, it does work well within the genre. Angel Has Fallen aims to wow the audience with explosions and not character monologues, so with that knowledge the dialogue isn’t a letdown. That being said, the theater experience I had for my screening was not a good one, which made it hard to feel the emotions that the character exchanges were aiming for. Reveals and one-liners meant to build a friendly relationship were overshadowed by the audience members behind me and in front of me asking “who is that” and laughing at the worst moments, while offering up commentary for every decision Butler’s character makes.
Light Spoilers below the image.
That being said, I was pleasantly surprised by the character moments in the film that aimed to build out not only Mike’s identity as soldier close to the end of his career but his relationship to others. While we’ve had two movies to understand the dynamic between Trumball and Mike, we haven’t seen him really be something beyond his mission, but in Angel Has Fallen you get to understand him as a son, and as someone who is lost without his larger identity as a guardian angel. With that, Trumball and Mike have limited interaction in the film. While the moments they connect are impactful, the real relationship that I found myself impressed by was with his father Clay.
Played by Nick Nolte, Clay is a darker reflection of Mike and offers a deeper critique of war than I thought I would get from Angel Has Fallen. In fact, he’s who the audience can easily see Mike turning into. Through their conversations, you learn that Mike sees it too, at least enough for it to hit. Beyond that, the new addition of Jada Pinkett Smith to the cast as a smart and justice-seeking FBI agent rounds out a movie with solid character acting to support its action.
Agent Thompson, while brief in her role, serves to move the plot and build intensity. Her smarts and ability to command a scene makes sense and adds a sense of tension to Mike’s time on the run. She’s going to find him, and the organization framing him is too: it’s just a matter of when. That said, after seeing Smith as Fish Mooney, the best part of Fox’s Gotham, she is underutilized here when it comes to action.
Then comes the villains. The biggest issue with casting actors who routinely play bad guys is that you need to cast more than just one red haring to throw off the audience. When using a character actor that is so recognizable as being a face of evil, it becomes hard to buy into the character’s motives as anything other than nefarious. From the first 10 minutes, it’s easy to see where the story is going, and sadly if you watched the trailer, much of the surprise is taken out. That said, of the smaller choices in the film that seem inconsequential, it surprised me enough that the otherwise completely predictable plot didn’t bother me.
In the end, Angel Has Fallen did just what I expected to do and even a little bit more. While I wish I had enjoyed the film with an audience who understand what the “no talking after this point and put away your phones” card on the screen before the film rolled, I did walk out with my expectations shattered. Sure, the CGI is pretty bad, but the hand to hand combat is so good. Sure, one-liners are off-kilter for the drama of the scenes, but it’s Freeman and Butler so it’s enjoyable.
We all know that Angel Has Fallen won’t win any awards, but I do think it should win your price of admission.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.