‘Angel Has Fallen’ rises above ‘London Has Fallen,’ but short of franchise’s original

‘Angel Has Fallen’

Rated R: Violence and language throughout.
Playing at: Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, Premiere Cinemas, Cinemark’s Tinseltown 17, Cinemark’s Movies 16 and Stars and Stripes Drive-In.
Credits: Directed by Ric Roman Waugh. Screenplay by Robert Mark Kamen, Matt Cook and Ric Roman Waugh; from a story by Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt; based on characters created by Rothenberger and Benedikt. Music by David Buckley. Cinematography by Jules O’Loughlin. Edited by Gabriel Fleming. Production design by Russell De Rozario.
Stars: Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Nick Nolte, Danny Huston, Tim Blake Nelson, Piper Perabo, Lance Reddick and Jada Pinkett Smith.

Bill’s rating: Three of five stars

Upon experiencing the 2013 adventure “Olympus Has Fallen,” I never dreamed nor predicted that star Gerard Butler would transform his character, Secret Service Agent Mike Banning, into a recurring role.

Yet he was back three years later in “London Has Fallen,” and again now in the popular, action sequel “Angel Has Fallen.”

Angel, of course, refers to Butler’s character. And for good reason.

After all, Banning proved himself to be the president’s guardian angel after rescuing America’s leader from terrorists in the first film, then keeping him safe while other world leaders were falling like flies during their London visit.

Evidently, even Secret Service agents are asked, “What have you done for me lately?”

Thus, staff members whose job is to protect the president of the United States … this time played by always perceptive Morgan Freeman … are quick to suspect surviving agent Banning after a massive drone attack wipes out his Secret Service brothers and ruins the president’s fishing trip by leaving him comatose.

Admittedly, action sequences immediately become attention-grabbing, beginning with a weapon able to spit out dozens of flying, dive-bombing, explosive drones. All apparently are connected to facial recognition equipment, allowing them to identify each agent on the presidential detail before blowing them apart.

That also helps a villain veer attacking drones away from Banning, leaving him breathing and a sole survivor easily framed for planning the assassination attempt.

Mind you, jailing Banning isn’t good enough. Should the president survive, he’s liable to be the only person giving his guardian angel the benefit of the doubt.

Murdering a superior-trained Banning during a transport or escape isn’t about to happen. Yet he really needs to be eliminated if a traitor is to make his plan pay off.

The film’s major negative lies in the predictability of at least some of the Bad Guys, although the guessing is not always easy.

Major actors do not accept minor roles without an opportunity to either play the hero or wear a black hat. And characters introduced within a somewhat lengthy opening training sequence are likely to return. Call it Screenwriting 101.

That said, filmmaker Ric Roman Waugh, directing a script he helped write, takes a more topical approach than those responsible for the past two chapters. This sequel includes references to Russian election-tampering and a willingness to enhance American military might via private contractors. Butler’s Banning even offers to use his influence to help a contractor should an opportunity present itself.

In addition, the president’s angel has developed pain issues ripped from ongoing media headlines about increased opiate dependency. He has to question whether all of his experience and sacrifices have rewarded him only with migraines and insomnia.

It is a nice, topical touch, somewhat unexpected in an action film.

It soon is enhanced by the appearance of growling, scenery-chewing Nick Nolte, who steals the movie as Mike’s estranged dad, a Vietnam veteran whose wartime PTSD found him leaving his family, leaving the grid, hiding all alone and wiring his world to blow if Big Brother ever manages to locate his hidey-hole.

The younger Banning is not at all pleased about being in a position where he must consider asking for his  dad’s help. But the president is in a coma, the vice president is running the country and Mike is a patsy on the run, unable to protect his family.

Even then, viewers wonder if emotionally locked doors could open if only Butler and his dad can survive.

That hardly seems likely. Sacrifices tend to be made in such films, with victories dampened by melodramatic tears brought on by the death of a likeable character.

Then again, Waugh may have twists or surprises in store.

A former stunt performer, Waugh provides enjoyable action sequences and knows how an unexpected bullet can shock audiences.

Nolte, Butler and Piper Perabo, as Banning’s wife, share family charisma when the emphasis is not on guns and knives.

Waugh also lures a fine performance from Jada Pinkett Smith as a determined FBI agent, while Tim Blake Nelson pretty much mails in his portrayal of the vice president. The script forces Danny Huston to compare warriors to lions once too often, and yes, Morgan Freeman makes even political roles believable.

No doubt producers will want to keep Freeman in office should another testosterone-fueled template entice Butler to return for a fourth “Fallen” adventure. His third isn’t bad.

 

Gage’s rating: Three of five stars

With this year’s many sequels emerging week after week and most being bad, it was difficult to find one providing just enjoyable escapism.

“Angel Has Fallen” did not promise much, arriving on the heels of flop “London Has Fallen,” which followed the financially successful “Olympus Has Fallen.”

Yet while not without flaws, the overall quality of the new movie has improved tremendously since “London Has Fallen.”

The story has taken a turn, accusing Secret Service agent hero Mike Banning of plotting an assassination attempt on the president.

I can’t be the only one who found it weird anyone would believe Banning, who went to great lengths to save the president twice before, would now try to kill him. It doesn’t make any sense … as if the first two movies never happened.

Other than that, the movie does a  good job of letting people get to know Mike Banning more. Combined with gritty and sometimes humorous characters, the movie gets better as it goes along. It starts off a little slow and the plot twists are predictable, but it was far better in the last three quarters of the movie.

Gerard Butler reprises his role as agent Mike Banning and gives us a more down-to-earth character who doesn’t feel near as superhuman as he was in “Olympus Has Fallen.”

I don’t think it’s as good as a performance as the first one was, but it’s close. The greatest addition to the movie was Nick Nolte playing Clay Banning, who is hilarious as soon as you see him and brings life into the movie. I never expected him to be funny, but it was a pleasant surprise that caught me off guard.

President Trumbull is played by Morgan Freeman, and he is just kinda  there, not really doing anything except trying not to die. He does some presidential stuff but other than that, he spends most of his time in a hospital bed. Danny Huston plays Wade Jennings and is confusing because I kinda liked the character when he is in a gun fight, but everything else just doesn’t fit. Nobody other than that stands out to me in the slightest, ultimately showing off a less than stellar cast. Gerard Butler and Nick Nolte definitely carried the rest of the cast to the finish line in this movie.

The action was also a major improvement, becoming more down to earth than the original two where there was a killer plane flying above Washington D.C. in the first movie and an entire city locked down in the second. It was a welcome change to see it become so much grittier and not completely out-of-this-world impossible. I was never bored during the action scenes and I enjoyed the amount of time they took to actually clean the scenes up a bit to make it look better.

“Angel has Fallen” has picked up the “Fallen” pieces from “London has Fallen” and reversed the course of the series. The additions to the cast with a more in depth, if not lazy, story helped this movie over the course of the film. It still wasn’t as good as it could have been, which is sad to see with so much potential there. But the finished product is still solid.