If you want to take the temperature of the country, then scroll through the “Top 10 in the US Today” section currently appearing on your Netflix homepage. The ranked titles are an eclectic batch of junk food entertainment, where a docuseries like Tiger King can reign supreme next to appointment television such as Ozark and Nailed It. For a country looking for comfort, most of the selections make sense. Misery either loves company or it wants to be blinded by sweet sugary fluff.
Of course, there are a few titles that stick out. Last week, the Mel Gibson VOD revenger Blood Father wormed its way into the heap, and this week, folks looking for a similar burst of adrenaline have forced Angel Has Fallen into the conversation. Some movies just make you go, “Huh.”
Why did America propel Angel Has Fallen to number five with a bullet on Netflix’s Top 10? How did it rise above a nearly infinite pool of available action flicks? Why not a gonzo masterpiece like the viscerally explicit The Night Comes For Us or the underrated and anxiety-inducing festival favorite Wheelman? Hell, why not one of the other Gerard Butler excursions on Netflix, namely The Bounty Hunter, The Ugly Truth, or A Family Man?
I definitely enjoyed the first film (Olympus Has Fallen, which is also on Netflix) featuring Butler as the gung-ho secret service agent Mike Banning itching to get medieval on diabolical White House interlopers. But the second film (London Has Fallen, not on Netflix) elicited more Zzzzs than blood-lusting hollers, and I could not muster the energy to bother with the trilogy capper in theaters. Looks like I was a fool, or more likely a snooty snob, but thanks to the people, I pressed play on a movie I would never have otherwise bothered with.
Angel Has Fallen is a middle-of-the-road wrongfully-accused-man-on-a-mission movie that properly and carefully peppers its runtime with corpses. Banning is too old for this shit. His joints are busted, his back is just as bad, and he’s prone to debilitating migraines. He needs to get out of the secret service game, but he’s addicted to the thrill of the hunt. As his mercenary buddy Wade Jennings (Danny Huston, immediately reeking of bad guy odor) tells him, “We’re lions,” and lions gotta eat.
Ric Roman Waugh is a stuntman turned writer/director. He came up in the industry through iconic bits of ass-kickery like They Live, Lethal Weapon 2, Tango & Cash, and Total Recall. More recently, he’s helmed several lo-fi brawlers that pack as much dramatic weight as they do a strong right hook. Felon, Snitch, and Shot Caller are all worthy of your attention, delivering mean-tempered protagonists out to prove themselves against even more wretched antagonists. Waugh knows how to pump a pulse from his audience by connecting to their animalistic need for justice. He brings all of that righteous fury to Angel Has Fallen.
Accused of attempting to assassinate the Commander in Chief (Morgan Freeman, enjoying his presidential upgrade from put-upon Secretary of State in London Has Fallen) via a murder of drones, Banning hits the road in a desperate search for his one-armed man. What works for The Fugitive should surely work for him, right?
As is quickly revealed, Jennings orchestrated the ordeal because his corporate black ops unit was not receiving enough government contracts. He plans to frame Banning by falsifying his partnership with dastardly Russians and inserting his Vice President puppet (Tim Blake Nelson) into the Oval Office, where he can write a blank check for mercenaries. The USA doesn’t need hippy-dippy peacenik presidents. America demands badasses.
Don’t worry, though, the red, white, and blue gets a double dose of caveman heroism. With both the FBI and a nearly endless stream of rent-a-goons on his tail, Banning runs to the only man who could ever match his rage and savage machismo: dear old Dad (Nick Nolte). Papa Banning came back from Vietnam with a shattered soul and a broken mind. He left his son and wife when the child was wee and took up life as a militant backwoodsman who would rather store armaments than make room for report cards on the fridge.
Nolte and Butler are a damn delight on screen. Can one out-gruff the other? I’m not sure, but they sure as hell try. They grumble and growl and spit disgust with gusto. Behind every verbal barb, the actors manage to pack a little hurt. You know the drill. They can’t hug, so they beat up on each other until the real baddies penetrate the compound perimeter.
When the armada finally does arrive at their doorstep, the resulting firefight is utterly satisfying in the most combative and comical fashion. Papa Banning has rigged his land with explosives, not with one mine here and one mine there, but with roads of C4 buried beneath the brush. While the mercs descend on their cabin, father and son scurry below in a superhighway of tunnels. Once they pop up out of the ground, Papa Banning flicks a switch, and the forest ignites. One after the other, the mercs pop and splatter. The sequence is not over in a minute or two. The explosions erupt for a good ten minutes as Banning basks in the beautiful madness of his father’s glorious arena of boobytraps. It’s a John Rambo wet dream.
Through slaughter, father and son come to an understanding. Banning goes after Jennings, and Papa takes the job of protecting his daughter-in-law and grandchild. Many heads get stabbed.
From there, the film follows all the beats you would expect, arriving at a conclusion with a little too much CGI interference, but not enough to distract from the carnage. These kinds of stories don’t require tension. Butler was never going to finish this saga under the bootheel of Danny Huston.
Angel Has Fallen is not looking to reinvent the wheel, or even change gears at any point. All three Fallen films harken back to an era of point-and-shoot action violence that we’ve mostly moved beyond as a culture. Gerard Butler cares not for progression. He wants his Schwarzenegger/Stallone movie, and for the most part, he prospers in their nostalgic playground.
Angel Has Fallen is a bottomless bag of chips. No fancy flavors or dips required. You take a bite, and you want another. After your third or fourth bite, you’re still eating. You know it’s not good for you, and there are healthier options as well as more nuanced snacks available in the cupboard, but you don’t have the energy to browse or experiment today. You want a reliable feast. Here ya go.
P.S. Don’t stop watching when the credits hit. Angel Has Fallen also suffers from delusions of MCU grandeur. If you want to know how the header image fits into the narrative, you gotta hang on for the midpoint stinger. It’s a doozy.