Mike Banning has no business being the character that Gerard Butler has played most in his career. Sure, 300 and Reign of Fire didn’t leave his character open for revisiting, and a Den of Thieves sequel likely won’t see the light of day, but Banning is not the character to headline a trilogy. Olympus Has Fallen seemed destined for failure in direct competition with White House Down coming out the same year, yet Olympus Has Fallen succeeded. Then, the film spawned a sequel set in London, which somehow managed to gross even more money. The world keeps demanding more of these films and Gerard Butler keeps giving the people what they want. Stabbing people in the head and wearing tactical vests.
Things are looking up for Mike Banning. With President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) no longer in the picture, Vice President Allan Trumbull has moved into the big, plushy chair in the Oval Office. One of his first duties is to offer Banning the position of Secret Service Director to replace current head David Gentry (Lance Reddick) while on a fishing trip. Getting out of the field should ease Banning’s burgeoning dependence on pain killers for headaches and insomnia, so he graciously accepts. Regrettably, a swarm of drone kills the good mood (and all of the secret service agents on duty). Only Banning is left to save Trumbull, which he does, heroically, but he loses consciousness in an explosion and wakes up to learn some bad news. One, President Trumbull is in a coma, and, two, Banning is being charged with attempting to assassinate the president. If he wants to clear his name, Banning will have to escape the FBI, and uncover the real threat himself.
Now, Banning is no John McClane. While Olympus Has Fallen aped enough of Die Hard to convince viewers otherwise, Banning just doesn’t have the requisite charm or vulnerability to make watching these films a pleasurable experience. He has no clever witticisms to taunt his foes with, and his lines consist largely of shouting four-letter words as he runs and shoots his way through cities, forests, buildings, etc. Even his family is there just for show. Banning’s wife, previously played by Radha Mitchell, now by Piper Perabo, has little bearing on the plot and exists just to call her husband on the phone sounding upset. A supporting turn from Nick Nolte, as Banning’s father Clay, provides some comic relief during the barrage of gunplay. As a loopy old survivalist, he essentially provides the Albert Finney part from Skyfall, but with way weirder dialogue. I only wish that there was an Indiana Jones-themed, “we named the dog Mike,” confessional that took place between father and son. Nick Nolte has a blast–literally and figuratively–as the senior Banning, and it’s easy to see why he signed on to the film.
If only Danny Huston’s turn as Banning’s old friend Wade Jennings were received as well. From their first scene together sharing a beer, Jennings reminisces perhaps too long about the old days they shared in the army. The trailer already gave away his real motivations, but Huston certainly doesn’t help, twirling a figurative moustache throughout his line delivery. Nothing proves more dangerous than old buddies in action cinema lately (The Commuter, Equalizer 2).
One thing worth commending in the third entry of the ‘Has Fallen‘ franchise is–and the bar is quite low here–a lack of the rampant racism and xenophobia that defined the first two films. The enemies targeting President Trumbull are not North Koreans or jihadists, rather smirking white men who have betrayed their oaths to the United States. In that regard, Angel Has Fallen is fairly similar to Skyfall. Over-reliance on technology and a lack of oversight on third-party surveillance groups allowed for an enemy to infest itself inside the country. And just as Bond’s body failed him, Banning is also presented as damaged goods, forcing him to make amends with the past to be able to save the day. Obviously, Butler’s third franchise entry won’t reach the highs that Daniel Craig’s third Bond film did, but it is a large improvement over the garbage fire that was London Has Fallen.
Director Ric Roman Waugh’s (Snitch, Shot Caller) background is in stunts and his handling of the set pieces proves credible in the execution of the action onscreen. London Has Fallen took a hit in quality for special effects and fight choreography, but both aspects are clearer and authentic for Angel Has Fallen. Gerard Butler can walk out of the third ‘Fallen‘ film with his head held high, should it serve as the finale (which it should). Short of some bizarre alien addition and titling the next Banning movie Earth Has Fallen, there’s nowhere else for Butler’s disgruntled public servant to go.