Angel Has Fallen

So if it drives you crazy to see action films, franchised to extreme and you hate Gerard Butler and wonder who it is you can blame, well here I am baby. Let me have it. These movies would be a guilty pleasure except I have no guilt and those of you Butler haters out there can just move on, I have yet to fall out of love with the action flicks he is churning out in the last few years. “Olympus Has Fallen” started this series and it was definitely the superior of the White House under attack films of that year. “London Has Fallen” is not a particularly strong follow up to that first adventure of Secret Service Agent Mike Banning, but it did have a lot of combat scenes that were fun to watch up to a point. This third entry is not as clever as the first, but much more effective than the second.

Morgan Freeman is now President, although that seems to have been the case since 1998 [Maybe the Longest Term in Office Ever]. Some malarkey about new foreign policy constraints and the use of civilian contractors for military support is the plot point that moves the narrative forward. It really doesn’t matter because all we really want is agent Banning kicking butts and causing mayhem wherever he turns up. Fortunately that’s what we get. The man about to be named director of the Secret Service is framed to take the fall for an assassination of the man he is supposed to be protecting. There was no secret who the villain is, let’s face it, you don’t cast Danny Huston as a friendly and supportive sidekick. There is a man behind the man villain as well and although I was pretty sure what was going to be coming, there was a short period where they thew me off the track for two scenes and I thought my stereotypical assumption would turn out to be wrong. Nope, I was right, they just paused a beat before getting to it.

The middle of the film is a chase sequence that works pretty well and is different enough from the events in the second film to avoid feeling like a rehash. Mike has to escape both legitimate authority but also the bad guys who are trying to complete the frame. There are some shoot outs, a truck and car chase and Mike occasionally has to sit down with a headache.   Buckloads of good guys and bad guys get killed in the first sections of the film. The opening attack wipes out dozens of Secret Service agents. Turnaround is fair play and dozens of bad guys chasing Mike get creamed as well. Nick Nolte appears in the film and provides a big lift to the movie with a performance as a paranoid survivalist with a connection to our hero. Maybe laughing was inappropriate when a battalion of men is randomly blown to bits, but the demented glee of the character and the audiences joy in seeing tome turnabout left most of my matinee crowd chuckling.

I’ve not seen “Felon” or “Snitch” so I can’t say exactly what Director Ric Roman Waugh’s style is. This film makes it look very efficient and clear. There are some creative shots in the drone attack near the start of the film, and the opening “combat” sequence is distinctive so that we do get an idea that it is more video game than actual combat.  Overblown action scenes at the end don’t usually make much narrative sense but they usually don’t need to. They simply have to get us the resolution we are hoping for in an entertaining way. Bingo! that’s what we got. The film cuts down on the name recognition talent the first two films used to get our attention, and doubles down with quality second tier players. Instead of Angela Basset we get Jada Pinket-Smith, leave out Melissa Leo, Jackie Earle Haley and Robert Forester and insert Tim Blake Nelson, Lance Reddick and Piper Perabo.  You don’t need to have seen either of the earlier films to appreciate this one, just know that the cast change is unimportant, this series is all about action.

Well there is some political and topical material, these movies are not satires directed at any particular perspective. We don’t know the party of the President, we don’t have a lot of strum und drang involving high minded principles. This is straight 80s style action. Good guys and bad guys going at each other with some elaborate set pieces and enough personality in the background to keep us hanging on through the slower parts. I suspect the demographic for this will skew older. My reasoning is that the audience for this wants to stay awake, they don’t really care about being woke. Now let’s have Mike take his knife with the President to Moscow or Beijing. Time to kill some totalitarians, not just entrepreneurs.

London Has Fallen

You did not think that after a surprise financial success with “Olympus Has Fallen“, there would not be a sequel did you? Come on, there is money on the table and someone has to take it home, It might as well be Gerard Butler. I am a big fan of the original film, where Butler does his best Bruce Willis impression and the effects teams add enough firepower to take down a whole city. The premise was over the top but in complete congruence with the action films of the 80s and 90s. It was basically “Die Hard” in the White House. Just like the sequel to the original Die Hard, “London Has Fallen” keeps the characters from the original, transports them to another location, and changes directors. Babak Najafi is no Renny Harlin, but he manages to deliver the goods in sufficient quantities that there could easily be  a “Moscow Has Fallen” entry in a couple of years.

I do feel a bit guilty about all the mayhem shown in the film. There are explosions and public edifices wiped out along with what must have been thousands of civilians.  Somehow, it is not quite as disconcerting as it is to me in some other films, maybe it is the cheese factor that you start with. No one worries that much when it happens in a “Transformers” movie because the film never takes itself seriously. “Man of Steel” took itself extremely seriously, and maybe that is the difference to me. At the end of this film, all of London is being rebuilt and there will be little to remind anyone of what happened. The fact that Morgan Freeman provides the denouement instead of Aaron Eckhart’s President Asher, only underscores the fact that his sonorous voice is being used to put the button on the story.

Most of the terror attacks happen early in the movie, so the expensive effects shots are used to set us up for the cat and mouse game that makes up the majority of the film. Secret Service Agent Mike Banning(Butler) has the President with him as the terrorists chase them across the abandoned streets of London. The terrorists conveniently shut off the lights so no one will see that the street sets are not real locations and as many shootouts in the dark can be accentuated with firebursts from the tip of a machine gun. The preposterous set up involves half of the London police being replaced by an army of terrorists that no one will notice. When members of the palace guard take their weapons and gun down the German Chancellor, you know there is no logic to the film at all.

The fact that the story is nonsense does not distract from the pleasure we get from watching Agent banning kick tail and take names. When he gets to use those names in his interplay with the main terrorist on the scene, it is exactly like a moment form “Die Hard”. One thing that is a little different however is that Mike Banning is not going to let any terrorist get up five minutes later and take a dying shot. He seems to be a strong believer in the “double Tap” and when it comes to taking a man down with a knife, clearly a single insertion is not enough. When the President asks if the one killing of a terrorist with a knife in a particularly brutal way was necessary, Mike simply smiles and says, “No”.

There is no reason to take any of this as more than a program, popcorn afternoon filler. Jackie Earle Hailey, Melissa Leo, Robert Forester, and Angela Basset, all Academy Award nominated actors are collecting a paycheck. Only Basset has to leave a room for her performance, everyone else sits around a table to deliver their lines. Morgan Freeman, an Academy Award winner, does stand up a couple of times to make his presence worth third billing,  but ultimately this is Butler’s show with Eckhart in support. Cracking wise and killing a buttload of bad guys is what this film is all about. It does it efficiently and in an entertaining way, so if you want to eat your Milk Duds in the dark, this is a movie that will facilitate that. Of course all of it’s calories are empty as well.