Angel Has Fallen review: A loud, ultra-violent, ugly-looking film in search of a soul

Since there’s a lack of recognisable landmarks to blow up here, the film feels the need to amp up what action it does have to an almost apocalyptic degree

Clarisse Loughrey
Thursday 22 August 2019 12:37 BST
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Angel Has Fallen - Trailer

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Louise Thomas

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Dir: Ric Roman Waugh. Starring: Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Piper Perabo, Lance Reddick, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Nick Nolte. 15 cert, 121 mins

There comes a time when every action franchise has to take a long, hard look in the mirror. Three films in, the “Fallen” franchise seems to have finally done that, concluding that xenophobia might not be the greatest look in 2019. The series has so far been marked by ghoulish jingoism: Olympus Has Fallen opted for full-blown paranoia, with its story of villainous North Koreans hijacking the White House, while London Has Fallen was rife with Islamophobia (it’s still hard to believe that the line, “Get back to F***headistan or wherever it is you’re from,” made it to the final cut). While the third installment in the franchise, Angel Has Fallen, is still a loud, ultra-violent, ugly-looking film, you can feel a guilt weighing heavily on its creators. As a result, it’s unexpectedly self-reflective.

Namely, our hero, US secret service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), is finally seeing his exploits catch up with him. A doctor has cautioned him that the headaches and insomnia he’s experiencing are probable signs of spinal cord damage. There’s only so much more stress his body can take. Banning is left torn between his near-psychotic attachment to pursuing danger at every cost (“We’re lions and that ain’t never gonna change”, an old friend of his from the army says) and the cushy desk job being dangled in front of him by his boss, President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman).

But that’s a decision that he’ll have to worry about later, after Trumbull becomes the target of a coordinated drone attack that leaves his entire security entourage dead. That is, except for Banning, who swoops in at the last moment to save the president’s life. With Trumbull left in a coma, the FBI immediately pin the crime on Banning and he’s forced to go on the run, track down the real culprit, and clear his name.

Angel Has Fallen has, for some reason, modelled itself on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, as Banning tracks down the father (Nick Nolte) who abandoned him many years ago and who now lives in a booby-trapped cabin deep in the woods, far away from “Big Brother”. Nolte is admittedly great in the role, marking the first time these films have had a genuine sense of humour and character, as he moves through the world like a delusional, dirt-encrusted Santa Claus. And while Butler is still playing the gruff action hero he’s always been, his moments with Nolte feel light and spontaneous enough that you could be momentarily convinced he was a real, human person.

The film’s script (written by Robert Mark Kamen, Matt Cook, and director Ric Roman Waugh) never goes beyond vague anti-war statements – Banning’s father notes that it makes no difference whether it’s Iraq or Vietnam, all wars wreak havoc on a soldier’s soul. But as these two men – both feeling past their prime – share their gripes and grumbles, it provides a welcome change of pace from the non-stop action that dominates the rest of the film.

And what chaotic action that is. Since there’s a lack of recognisable landmarks to blow up here, Angel Has Fallen feels the need to amp up what action it does have to an almost apocalyptic degree. Every scene is hyperactively edited together, with the camera wheeling about with such free abandon that there’s really no telling what’s going on. If something has the ability to explode, it will at some point explode. Add to that: the obvious use of green screens, the silly-looking drones (alongside Hobbs and Shaw and Spider-Man: Far From Home, this truly has been the summer of drones), and the hideous orange-and-teal hue of the film – a favourite of the action genre, but here it’s pushed to a laughable extreme. Everyone looks like they have jaundice.

The film has all the noisy distraction you’d expect (and maybe want) from this type of fare, but Angel Has Fallen is clearly striving to be about something, even if its creators are really just fumbling around in the dark. The film’s villain declares they want to “make America strong again” and there’s a mention of election tampering conducted by Russia, despite there being no allusions to Trump in Morgan’s Trumbull. What does this all mean? Who knows. Angel Has Fallen is a film in search of a soul. It doesn’t find it, but the effort is appreciated.

Angel Has Fallen is out in UK cinemas now

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