“Angel Has Fallen” Movie Review

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     With studios starving for franchises, it’s no surprise we are now at the point where films like “Angel Has Fallen” are being made.  Just look at the facts.  Aside from Universal’s Justin Peele thriller “Us”, and Sony’s Quentin Tarantino dramedy “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood”, not a single original IP has crossed the $100 million mark at the box office so far this year.  Why? Because audiences are craving, consuming, and wanting more of these branded episodic film franchises where we follow established characters into new, yet familiar, scenarios designed each time to be even more preposterous then the previous installment.  Maybe it’s the “Die Hard” franchise we have to ultimately thank for this.  And there is no doubt the filmmakers here aspire to someday have Gerard Butler’s Mike Banning one day spoken in the same sentence as Bruce Willis’ John McClane, but the fact we have seen all of this before done much better, greatly detracts from the overall experience.

     Antoine Fuqua led off the now three film series with 2013’s “Olympus Has Fallen”,  which was followed by Babak Najafi’s 2016 sequel “London Has Fallen”.  Both films featured Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), thrusting him into situations where the President he is protecting comes under fire in a series of assassination attempts.  Whereas Fuqua’s film took advantage of a more claustrophobic setting, limiting the primary action to an underground bunker, the sequel looked to bring the proceedings to a global stage with a much less desirable result.  More of the same occurs in Ric Roman Waugh’s “Angel Has Fallen” where the former Speaker of the House and Vice President, Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman), is now the President of the United States with Banning serving as the head of his security detail.  With all the character did in the first two films, fighting his way through North Korean and Middle Eastern terrorists, who would be better qualified for such a role right?  Particularly since this time around, the filmmakers have decided to take a page out of today’s headlines and insert a potential Russian connection to the obligatory assassination plot.

     It doesn’t take long for the latest attempt on a U.S. President’s life to occur on screen, as Banning and an army of Secret Service Agents and military personal accompanying Trumbull on a fishing trip are ambushed by a lethal drone attack.  Banning manages to save the President and himself, but his entire team is killed with surgical precision by hundreds of tiny drones that fly in like insects, identify their target with facial recognition, and destroy them with high level explosives.  Given Banning’s reputation, you would believe he again would receive the hero treatment after saving the life of the President under the most harrowing of circumstances.  But with Trumbull in a coma and evidence conveniently discovered showing the contrary, Banning wakes up handcuffed to a hospital bed with an audience of FBI Agents who officially charge him with the attempted murder of the President.

     What comes next is a storyline similar to “The Fugitive" combined with the one man against the world plot threads of the aforementioned “Die Hard” films that sees Banning run through a series of mostly basic action set pieces (car chases, gun battles, fight sequences) designed with a number of helpful conveniences to drive the story where it wants to go.  Take for a example a prisoner transport convoy where Banning is being taken from the hospital to a federal holding facility.  The group of vehicles appears to be escorted by local police and they choose to travel at night on a remote two lane highway lined with trees and no civilization in site.  Now this is a man who everyone believes is responsible for an assassination attempt on the President.  Why not fly him to his destination or bring him somewhere that doesn’t require leaving populated areas?  Obviously, this is so the real assassins can set up an ambush of the convoy in a place that it is tactically advantageous, thus leaving the convoy helpless and unable to defend themselves in the pitch black darkness.

     Of course, even in the most un-winnable situations, Banning finds a way to escape, making way for a hokey reunion with his estranged father, played by a crusty looking Nick Nolte, whom he apparently has kept tabs on for years but hasn’t seen since he was a child.  I guess it’s also convenient that his father, Clay, is well prepared for the obligatory assault on his remote middle of nowhere cabin when the bad guys figure out where Banning is likely hiding.  Lets just say in this case, the apple really doesn’t fall too far from the tree.  

     And while an ambitious FBI Agent, Agent Thompson (Jada Pinkett Smith), seems close to breaking the case wide open, the actual mastermind behind the assassination isn’t concealed from the audience, but rather put in place to function as an operative with every bit as much skill as Banning has in order to create a false sense of suspense when considering who will actually win in the end.  All of this leads to a predictable, yet crowd pleasing finale drawn mostly from the beats created by the many films before this one which used the exact same formula.

     Considering the supposed rally cry against gun violence in movies (and the subsequent release cancellation of Universal’s “The Hunt” because of the issue), it’s surprising films like “Angel Has Fallen” seem to get a pass and are clearly still the betting favorite to top the box office each week.  Banning and the various characters within the story brutally dispatch any number of people including cops, U.S. Marshals, FBI Agents, SWAT Officers, Secret Service Agents, members of the military, and that’s in addition to the rogue military outfit that serve as the primary antagonists in the film.  There are head shots, exploding bodies, knifings, and all sorts of other graphic and violent depictions of death and yet it seems as long as the politics in the film remain neutral, no one cares.  I guess in truth, only some lives matter.  GRADE: C