Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved action films. The James Bond franchise is what first inspired me to want to make movies, and I own a plethora of Stallone, Arnold, and Van Damme classics in my personal collection. Everything from Commando to John Wick lives in my personal Blu-ray library, and whenever I’m not in the mood for a horror movie (which is rare) action is my go-to genre for thrills and excitement. Whenever I reflect on my favorite action movies, I ponder what elements make those films so great and memorable. A good action movie is heavily stylized, and should be brimming with unique aesthetic. A good action movie should also contain memorable characters—especially the hero or heroine. We all know who John Wick is—even though there’s not a ton of depth to the character on paper, he’s brought to life by the stylized filmmaking and memorable performance from Keanu Reeves. James Bond, Neo, John McClane, Rambo… they’re memorable because the films they’re a part of are memorable. Action classics hold up due to sleek filmmaking—the editing, the pacing, the motion of an action film are all such important ingredients. Keeping all of this in mind, I sat down to watch ANGEL HAS FALLEN, the newest entry in the Mike Banning saga starring and produced by Gerard Butler. Though I’ve never personally held much interest in the franchise, I went in with an open mind; hoping to be surprised by what I saw on screen.
The series follows Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) as he once again must rise to the occasion to protect the President of the United States (Morgan Freeman), and this time, his own reputation. In this installment, Banning is framed for an assassination attempt on the President, and is forced off the grid as he is pursued by his own colleagues and allies. A private security sect run by Mike’s longtime war friend Wade Jennings (Danny Huston) is quickly revealed to be behind the plot—hired by an unknown super-villain who seemingly communicates to Wade and his cronies via a child’s toy voice modulator. The super-villain wishes to start a war with Russia by making it appear that Mike has been paid by the Russian government to take out the President. Wade and his mercenaries stand to gain monetary profit from a newfound war between the two nations, while the super-villain behind it all has his own power-hungry motivations. We’ll get to that later. As you can imagine, the U.S. government takes the bait and launches a full-blown manhunt for Banning. Banning must utilize his years of military training and exhaust all of his allies and connections in order to survive.
The story feels like one we’ve heard and seen before, and the film largely plays out as a typical, by-the-numbers action story. The twists and turns are beyond predictable, and the overall production and vibe the film gives off is that of an action-thriller network television show. The visual effects are shoddy at best, and border on laughable. The G20 summit news footage with Morgan Freeman super-imposed in next to Putin is a particularly ridiculous visual. The action sequences themselves are so chaotic and muddled, I often found myself squinting to try and see what was going on. The camera work is zoomed in tightly, and as shaky as ever. This creates the illusion of energy and excitement, but is really only hiding boring fight choreography, and low production value. The action lacks style and character, unlike the classics I mentioned before. For these reasons the film feels incredibly mediocre and average. There’s nothing worse than an average action film. Action movies can be good, and they can be so-bad-they’re-good. No one is going to try and argue that Hard Target or Marked for Death are Oscar-worthy films (except maybe myself), but they’re still amazing films because they’re so shamelessly absurd. Bad action movies can still be great action movies in their own right, and this is not the case for ANGEL HAS FALLEN. I was waiting to laugh out loud—searching for hilariously wooden performances, or god awful writing. Unfortunately, ANGEL HAS FALLEN is just relentlessly in the middle. The performances aren’t horrible—Butler even manages to be charismatic and charming from time to time, but he’s never quite charming enough. Danny Huston, who I typically love, is completely wasted on this film. He’s never allowed to be truly despicable or maniacal, and his performance ends up feeling uninspired and boring. The film has a few good scenes, including Banning’s reunion with his survivalist father (Nick Nolte); but these fleeting moments of entertainment aren’t enough to save the film from feeling like a bargain bin action movie that you’d watch only when you’re too hungover to change the channel as it airs on daytime television. Morgan Freeman and Jada Pinkett Smith, who are also typically incredible, are given completely pointless roles as well. Freeman spends most of the movie in a coma, and Jada Pinkett Smith is built up to be an interesting character and foil to Huston’s villain, only to be gunned down out of nowhere halfway through the film.
Mike Banning feels like an action hero for middle America—a bygone paragon of post-911 patriotism. He’s a poor man’s Tom Clancy hero who somehow is appealing enough to warrant three feature films. Butler is convincing at times, but mostly feels old and tired in this movie. The film takes itself too seriously, and frustratingly shies away from the ridiculous campiness that could’ve saved it. As a piece of action filmmaking, the movie fails to recognize the qualities that have made franchises like John Wick and Fast & Furious so successful. Action needs to be heavily stylized, and it should make spacial sense to the viewers at all times. The action in a John Wick movie is always so clean and visually appealing. The audience is aware of the surroundings in which each fight takes place, the geography of each scene is established with such care and detail, and every punch and gunshot is clearly visible. ANGEL HAS FALLEN ignores these guidelines, and instead favors gritty, realistic choreography and camera work. I get that these films are supposed to be grounded in a reality similar to our own, but I just find that beyond boring. Every action movie should contain some larger-than-life, fantastical element, and the only sign of that here is imagining a world in which Morgan Freeman is our President.
When I was younger I enjoyed hating on things more than I do now. When I go see a movie today, I really want so badly for it to be good. I love movies, and particularly action films. It pains me to sit here and bash on this film, but the filmmakers behind it have forced my hand. If you’re looking for a thrilling summer action experience, you’d have more fun sitting at home on your couch watching The Terminator or Rumble in the Bronx. Clearly the …Has Fallen franchise has its supporters, because they keep making them. If you loved the first two movies, chances are you’re going to love this one too, but it didn’t do much for me. It is however worth watching if you’ve always wanted to see Morgan Freeman standing next to Putin. That alone is the singular highlight from this film. ANGEL HAS FALLEN arrives in theaters August 23, 2019.