Director: Ric Roman Waugh
Stars: Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Jada Pinkett Smith
Seemingly made for the six people left who still think that 24 ought to be a thing, but with half the budget of a standard episode, Angel Has Fallen is the second sequel to silly but harmless action thriller Olympus Has Fallen. Industrial crap magnet Gerard Butler returns once again as burger-patty-faced Secret Service agent Mike Banning, desperately trying to protect Morgan Freeman’s President Trumble from anything and everything. This time around Banning himself is on the run; the patsy in a half-baked assassination attempt made by Danny Huston’s military contractor Wade Jennings (this can’t possibly be construed as a spoiler; there’s no other culprit possible).
Angel has the dubious fortune of following on the heels of 2016’s London Has Fallen; certainly the worst film I’ve seen and reviewed since starting The Lost Highway Hotel. Three and a bit years ago I slapped that movie with a score of 1 out of 10, and have spent the time since pleasantly forgetting its existence. But there’s something almost cosmic about an experience that awful. It becomes mythic. So I found myself inexorably drawn to this follow-up, as though it were some kind of reckoning.
Angel is nowhere near as bad as London, but still manages to place itself substantially far away from ‘good’. While it might sound nice in theory to revisit in earnest the playgrounds occupied by all manner of 90’s action thrillers, Angel has none of the self-awareness to enjoy the process. Every machination that director Ric Roman Waugh takes us through is guessable, familiar, but played with the kind of po-faced seriousness that quickly becomes a grinding chore.
Waugh is also phenomenally bad at directing action. He doesn’t understand the basic tenants of it. What’s required to make it tense or exciting or, in most cases, simply understandable. The opening scene is a case in point. Banning is testing out a combat scenario at Jennings’ vast Virginia training ground. Waugh doesn’t light properly, and edits frantically. He fails to establish basic geography, and his villains look exactly the same as Banning. The sequence is a right-off, and this is how the movie starts. In this action movie, it’s a blessed relief whenever you get a scene of folks talking. The only thing you have to worry about then is poor performance.
Butler sticks well within his range, which is limited. Freeman – who, lets be honest, hasn’t needed to try in two decades and therefore hasn’t – literally gets to sleep through half the movie. Huston knows the shit he’s in, so keeps the revs low. Only two actors bring any sense of character or urgency to the picture. Jada Pinkett Smith does her best with the weak material, but her FBI task force leader isn’t nearly as good as she is (you’re better than this, Jada). And then there’s Nick Nolte as one of David Lynch’s atomic hobos (or Banning’s backwoods father); easily the most enjoyable and goofy presence in the film’s limited roster of highlights.
These films make shedloads of money, but none of that seems to go back into production. Are shitty effects part of this series’ USP? If anything they’re even poorer here than they were in London. Virtually all airborne craft look as though they were created inside a SEGA Dreamcast (and none of them cast reflections or shadows on water), while the script’s ambitions for a convincing cloud of rubble and debris following the collapse of a building proves too much for this VFX team to handle. This is some SyFy Channel level shit right here.
Waugh has another trick up his sleeve to mask the paucity of budget; darkness. A significant amount of the second act takes place at night, either in cars or woods, with no light sources at all. Combine this with the director’s inability to stage action and you may as well leave the theatre for half an hour. It’s possible that there’s a section in this movie in which Banning tries to flee the FBI in the Coca-Cola truck from the Christmas adverts, but I’m not entirely sure. As for a close-quarters fight sequence staged inside the back of a moving van? I’ve no idea at all.
And then there’s the third act, which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever from the perspective of the character Jennings, initially so hell-bent on playing out his assassination plan so covertly. But it doesn’t matter. Angel Has Fallen is grade-F nonsense. Quality or consistent thought are not required. That’s the most chilling thing about this (beyond the potshots at the nasty Fake News generating media)… Whether its good or not, isn’t important to anyone involved. It simply has to exist.
Well, it passes the time, kinda. It’s less offensive than its predecessor, so there’s that. And its almost worth going just to experience the wrong-headedness of a mid-credits sequence that suddenly pitches the series into a weird comedic parallel universe which, frankly, would’ve improved the other two hours here. Plus its quite nice imagining that the current president could conceivably wind up in a coma… In fact, hell, I’ll come right out and say it; Angel Has Fallen is twice as good as London Has Fallen.
Unfortunately, around here, that doesn’t count for much.