Angel Has Fallen feels like a throwback to shows like 24 or its numerous clones in more ways than one: It seems to have the budget of a network television show, and it would feel more at home a decade ago — when there was some dignity left in the American Presidency, even after eight long years of George W. Bush making a mockery of it.
Angel opens with our hero — Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), stalwart Secret Service superman from the previous Fallen movies — weighing his future: Does he retire to sit behind a desk and manage the Service, or does he stay in the field in a job that has rendered his body brittle and his brain countlessly close to contusion? His decision seems made for him when, on a fishing trip with President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman), a drone strike destroys most of his fellow secret service members and leaves the President in a coma — and Banning framed as the perpetrator.
Butler is on record stating that Angel is like the Logan of his Mike Banning movies. To his credit, he looks a lot worse than Hugh Jackman did in that movie — pudgy, slow, old. I credit this to makeup and conscious choices on Butler’s part. Thematically, Angel occasionally questions the nature of the “warrior” archetype and whether he can truly retire, but it never amounts to much more than allowing Banning a few moments of human fallibility during action sequences that nonetheless turn out just fine for him.
Along for the ride this time is Nick Nolte as Butler’s father, Clay, a survivalist with a backwoods home off the grid surrounded by minefields. Nolte’s fun here, and his big action sequence is the most fun the movie finds itself having, but a lot of his presence is meant to drive home the cost of Banning never surrendering his lifestyle. It doesn’t really work because of course Banning’s kill-the-bad-guys stuff is the only way the world can keep spinning.
As a Mike Banning movie, Angel has all the hallmarks: An insidious group pushes Banning to the edge while a hidden villain played by a marquee actor reveals themselves as the mastermind. Only this time the “hidden villains” are pretty much outed immediately and subsequently take every step they can to inadvertently ensure their plan fails — right up to walking in the front door and trying to assassinate the President themselves. It’s the sort of plot that moves on autopilot and relies on setpieces and comedy bits to arouse the audience to attention, which is something Angel lacks to any great degree. The movie is emotionally level from start to finish, a dry hum, never too boring to watch but never interesting enough to remember. Two characters with a lot of dialogue in the first two acts apparently died while I was in the bathroom around 90 minutes in, and I’d forgotten they were in the movie until a character referenced them in the final scene.
Angel never rousts much attention, but it’s certainly competent enough to avoid ire. Butler’s not bad as Banning, whose characteristics are shared with just about every action paperback hero of his ilk. The script doesn’t service the themes it clearly wants to embrace, but that’s not on him. Nolte’s fun as always and Freeman’s reliable. The action bits range from choppy to surprisingly fun; the gore is so sparse as to be easily edited out for eventual cable TV play. It lacks the outright schlock factor of Babak Najafi’s London Has Fallen, or the sublimely dumb big-budget action artistry of Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen. It feels wholly willed into existence by Butler himself, jonesing to play this character whom he clearly loves with a more dramatic bent. Good on him. Steady, safely built, dependable, unremarkable and ultimately pleasant despite himself — a stream of descriptors that fit Mike Banning and this most recent action outing.