Gerard Butler’s greatest enemy in ‘Angel Has Fallen’ is old age
The title of “Angel Has Fallen” should be “Dude, You Need to Retire.”
I mean this 100% seriously. Gerard Butler is hardly the only aging action hero we’ve seen across the big screen, but “Angel Has Fallen” is the first movie that suggests its hero is only human. Unlike Bruce Willis or Sylvester Stallone’s characters, who perform feats of impossible heroism in their 60s as easily as they did in their 30s, Butler’s hero is finally breakable. He’s tired, he’s got a host of medical problems scaring any number of doctors, and he admits that it’s his own fears that keep him lying about how he’s fine and can still hang with the kids.
It’s a surprising take on the genre, especially given the predictability of the rest of the movie. “Angel Has Fallen” is actually the third in the series, following 2013’s “Olympus Has Fallen” and 2016’s “London Has Fallen.” In “Angel,” Butler’s Secret Service hero Mike Banning has both a close friendship with the president (played by Morgan Freeman) and the aforementioned health problems. These become an even bigger problem when he gets framed for an assassination attempt on the president, by a bad guy you will figure out in the first five minutes. There is, of course, another bad guy who is secretly funding the whole operation, and it’s possible it may take you a full 10 minutes to figure who that one is.
The rest of the plot follows every single other “secretly framed for an attack/crime” action movie you’ve ever seen, which is what makes the movie’s psychological elements so surprising. The first two movies in the series didn’t have time for things like PTSD and its effects on a person’s family, or even the natural fears that come with aging or illness. “Angel,” however, leans hard into all of it, taking some solid time to examine Banning’s mindset in between all the explosions. It’s a fascinating addition to the usual formula, and though the discussion is somewhat simplistic it’s definitely worth hearing.
The movie also offers other surprises in the form of Nick Nolte. His position in the movie — as Banning’s long-absent father — isn’t terribly original, but his portrayal as a traumatized Vietnam vet was both honest and welcome. It’s rare that such characters aren’t either demonized or lionized, but “Angel Has Fallen” does neither.
What it does do, however, is finally bring some humor into the series. Butler and Nolte’s interactions are flat-out hilarious at times, enough that a part of me wants to see an entire sitcom of their characters as unlikely roommates. As an action fan I’ve seen a lot of explosions, but I’ve never laughed so hard while they were happening.
If incredibly predictable action movies give you hives, you need to stay away from “Angel Has Fallen.” But if you’re comfortable digging for gems among the piles of familiar tropes, then the movie may have a few treasures for you.
Jenniffer Wardell is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at email@example.com.