Mike Banning: There's a manly name for you. It's the kind of name you'd find as the hard-drinking hero of a pulp detective novel, or a 1970s cop show. And that's why it seemed like the perfect name for the tough-guy Secret Service agent played by Gerard Butler in 2013's Olympus Has Fallen and 2016's London Has Fallen. This is the kind of alpha-male you want on your team when the chips are down—someone who can single-handedly take down a squad of terrorists, torture-stabbing dudes for information and tossing off more-than-vaguely racist quips about sending the bad guys back to "Fuckheadistan." If you're going to make a lunkheaded action franchise, give that protagonist a lunkheaded action name.
The Fallen movies have been so resolute in their throwback patriotic machismo that it's more than slightly disorienting to get a whiff of the red meat-less meal Angel Has Fallen chooses to serve up. Mike Banning is dealing with the long-term consequences of a life of violence—dizzying headaches, insomnia, popping pain medication—as the film opens, with the president (Morgan Freeman, having graduated since the first movie from speaker of the House to vice president and now the Oval Office) considering Banning for an upcoming opening as director of the Secret Service. But before Banning has a chance to consider leaving the field for a safer life behind a desk and enjoying his wife (Piper Perabo, replacing Radha Mitchell) and daughter, a sneak attack wipes out most of the president's security detail and leaves the POTUS comatose. Evidence points to Banning as a conspirator in the attack, which of course means he's going to have to escape from custody and attempt to clear his name.
Soon we're off on something with more than a few whiffs of The Fugitive, with Jada Pinkett Smith taking the role of the dogged law-enforcement officer on our hero's trail. The action is simple and straightforward—directed by one-time stunt coordinator Ric Roman Waugh (Snitch)—and continues the trilogy's well-established tradition of having approximately one out of every three lines of Banning's dialogue consist entirely of either "Shit!" or "Fuck!"
There's also a conspiracy to unravel, and while it should take approximately 12 seconds for any audience member to figure out who the real villain is, that's not entirely the focus here. Early on, we get a scene between Banning and his old Army buddy Jennings (Danny Huston)—who is now running a Blackwater-esque private paramilitary company—waxing philosophical over the life of a warrior. It's a set up for a movie that spends quite a bit of time on what it means to be turned into a weapon, and to have a government that doesn't seem to worry very much about pointing those human weapons at anything it considers even slightly threatening.
Angel Has Fallen really leans into that idea when Banning turns for help to his long-estranged father, a Vietnam veteran who abandoned the family and has become a survivalist in the West Virginia woods. It's a little something extra that Angel casts Nick Nolte as Banning pére, his wild beard and harsh rasp of a voice doing plenty of the heavy lifting at conveying a man left unfit for civilized society after his military experience. There's a surprising sensitivity to the scenes between Butler and Nolte, allowing the film to seem not completely disingenuous when it tries to acknowledge that a legacy of violence can't help but leave people scarred in ways they don't always know how to process.
None of which is to say that Angel Has Fallen entirely abandons the gritty pow-pow-big-ass-'splosion sensibility of its two predecessors. Plenty of things—and people—get blown up or shot up real good over the course of two hours, but instead of making the antagonist some non-American extremist, this installment turns Banning's adversary into America's own history of endless warfare. Gerard Butler might not be the ideal actor to deliver that message, since his American accent still sounds like he's chewing on something to avoid sounding Scottish. Still, a dose of wokeness was about the last thing I ever expected from this franchise. Mike Banning is a manly name, and it's OK to acknowledge that sometimes, the things a man in America is expected to do are pretty messed up.