Wednesday, October 2, 2019

It Came From The Cineplex: Angel Has Fallen

Angel Has Fallen was written by Robert Mark Kamen, Matt Cook and Ric Roman Waugh (with "story by" credit to Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt. Somehow it took a whopping FIVE people to write this film. It was directed by Ric Roman Waugh.

Kamen is a veteran screenwriter, who previously penned numerous major films, such as Taps, The Karate Kid I, II and III, Lethal Weapon 3, The Fifth Element, Kiss Of The Dragon, The Transporter 1, 2 and 3, Taken 1, 2 and 3, The Karate Kid (2010), Colombiana, The Transporter Refueled and Enter The Warriors Gate. Now THAT'S a resume!

Cook previously wrote Triple 9 (?), The Duel (??) and Patriot's Day. Rothenberger and Benedikt are working partners, who previously wrote Olympus Has Fallen and London Has Fallen (the two previous films in this trilogy) along with The Expendables 3.

Waugh is a former stunt man who previously wrote and directed In the Shadows, Felon, Snitch and Shot Caller, none of which I've ever heard of.

As you've likely figured out by now, Angel Has Fallen in the third film in the Fallen franchise. According to star Gerard Butler, it's also the last (unless it's a surprise box office hit, of course).

It's a mildly entertaining action movie that cobbles togeether bits and pieces from many other better films, such as The Fugitive, Vantage Point and The Sum Of All Fears. It's also instantly forgetabble, as it'll begin fading from your mind by the time you get back to your car.

Gerard Butler's fine once again as Agent Mike Banning, as he wearily saves the world one last time. The usually realiable Morgan Freeman turns in a low-energy performance, showing up at the beginning and end but sitting out the middle of the film. Apparently someone forgot to tell Tim Blake Nelson he was starring in an action movie though, as his weasily character wouldn't be out of place in a Scooby-Doo cartoon.

The highlight of the film though has to be Nick Nolte's performance as a crazy hermit doomsday prepper. I'm convinced Nolte wasn't acting here, and was simply playing himself.

So far the film's grossed a surprising $126 million worldwide against its modest $40 million budget. That's a respectable amount, but it's down from the previous films' totals of $170 million and $205 million respectively.


The Plot:
Secret Service agent Mike Banning (played by Gerard Butler) is seemingly on patrol in Iraq or Afghanistan or some such place. He sweeps through a building, mowing down every enemy soldier who gets in his way.

Ah, but the joke's on the audience though, as it turns out he's actually in an elaborate military training facility run by his old Army Ranger buddy Wade Jennings (who we've suspiciously never heard of before).

Jennings (played by Danny Huston) is the CEO of private security company Salient Global. He's heard that Banning is up for the job of Director Of Secret Service, and asks him to help Salient get a lucrative government contract. For old time's sake. Banning says he'll do what he can.

Banning returns home to his loving wife Leah and infant daughter Lynne. Lately he's been suffering from migraines and insomnia, but hides his condition from Leah. He visits a doctor, who tells him he's feeling the effects from all the abuse his body took in the previous two films. The doctor tells Banning he's "a disaster waiting to happen," and says if he doesn't slow down and take it easy he could die. This causes Banning to reconsider taking the Director position.

Cut to a cabinet meeting led by Alan Trumball (played by Morgan Freeman), who's now the President. Vice President Martin Kirby (played by Tim Blake Nelson) warns Trumball of recent alarming Russian activity, and says the U.S. needs to strike back. Trumball refuses, saying he's not about to start a war.

Later Banning and a squad of Secret Service agents accompany Trumball on a fishing trip. Trumball tells Banning he's looking forward to him being the new Director. Banning starts to tell him he's changed his mind about the promotion, stops when he hears a disturbance.

Banning looks up and sees a huge flock of drones flying toward the President's boat. He watches in horror as the armed drones brutally take out dozens of Secret Service agents. As the drones head toward the boat, Banning pushes Trumball into the water and leaps in after him. The drones destroy the boat in a fiery explosion. Banning surfaces and drags the unconscious President to the shore, then promptly passes out.
Banning wakes in the hospital, where FBI Agent Helen Thompson (played by Jada Pinkett Smith) tells him Trumball is in a coma. She says there's numerous evidence (including hair and DNA) pointing to the fact that Banning was behind the attack on the President. She arrests him for attempted murder.

Cut to a convoy transporting Banning to a maximum security prison. Suddenly the convoy's ambushed by a herd of black SUVs, and a squad of soldiers emerge and kill all the government agents. Banning manages to escape his bonds and kills his attackers. He recognizes one of them as a Salient grunt, and realizes his old pal Jennings has betrayed him for some reason.

Banning uses a pay phone to call Leah and tell her he's alright. The call alerts the FBI to his location, and there's a big action chase scene as Banning manages to get away.

Meanwhile, Kirby is sworn in as acting President. His first action is to announce that Banning worked with Russia to assassinate the President. He says he's enlisting the help of Salient to strike back against Russia— essentially declaring war against them. Say... I think this guy may be up to no good!

Banning hears the announcement and realizes Jennings is working with Kirby. Their plan: A. Remove Trumball from office. B. Install Kirby as President. C. Declare war on Russia. D. Give a fat defense contract to Salient. E. Profit!

Banning makes his way to the home of his estranged father Clay (played by Nike Nolte), who he's not seen in decades. Clay's doomsday prepper who lives off the grid in a heavily fortified compound deep in the woods. After a tense reunion, Clay agrees to help Banning prove his innocence. Just then alarms go off, and Clay uses his surveillance system to see a squad of armed Salient goons has tracked Banning to his compound.

Clay sets off numerous traps and explosions, spectacularly killing all the goons. Banning and Clay manage to escape. While stopping for gas, Banning overhears a news report that Trumball is showing signs of waking. He says Kirby will try to kill Trumball to silence him and decides to go save his friend. He asks Clay to protect Leah and Lynne for him, and drives off.

Right on cue, Kirby orders Jennings to make sure Trumball doesn't wake up, and to "take care" of Banning's family. Salient goons then show up at Banning's house, and tell Leah they're taking her and Lynne to a safe location. Just then the goons are killed by Clay, who tells Leah he's there to rescue her. Leah's suspicious of him at first, but Clay tells her he regrets walking out on his wife and son. Now's not the time for family therapy, Clay!

Agent Thompson arrives at Clay's cabin and sees the dozens of dead Salient grunts. From this she somehow deduces that Banning is innocent and was set up by Jennings. I don't see any way she'd come to that conclusion, but let's just move on. Thompson visits Jenning's base to interrogate him. Once he realizes she suspects him, he brutally executes her.

Banning makes his way to the hospital, right as Trumball wakes. He's immediately captured and brought before the President. Banning tells Trumball the whole story, and says Jennings is coming for him. The President, knowing that Banning saved his life at the lake, believes his tale.

Just then Jennings begins pumping gas into the hospital (?), planning to blow it up and kill Trumball in the process. The hospital's evacuated (well, sort of), and Banning and the Secret Service have a shootout with more Salient goons. Jennings realizes that Banning somehow made it back to the hospital and tipped off Trumball. He then sets off a bomb, blowing the hospital to smithereens.

Banning hides the President in a nearby building, but the Salient goons come for him. He tells the Secret Service agents to protect the Prez, then goes on an impressive one-man killing spree, murdering every Salient grunt in sight.

Jennings realizes Banning will kill him if he finds him, so he orders up a chopper and heads for the roof. Just as he's about to board, Banning appears and blows up the copter real good. The two former friends then have a violent, knock-down drag-out fight. Banning eventually gets the best of Jennings and stabs him in the armpit, causing him to bleed out and collapse. The two reminisce about better times for a moment, and then Jennings dies.

Trumball clears Banning of all charges, then returns to the Oval Office where he has Kirby arrested for treason. Banning turns in his resignation to Trumball, but he refuses to accept it and offers him the Secret Service Director job. Banning accepts. Wait, didn't the doctor tell him not to take the job?

Anyway, we then see Clay enjoying dinner with Banning and his family. Banning invites Clay to live with them and make up for lost time, and he happily accepts.

• Oddly enough, every film in the Fallen series has been distributed by a different studio. Olympus Has Fallen was released by FilmDistrict, London Has Fallen by Focus Features and now Angel Has Fallen by Lionsgate.

This likely explains why each film seems self contained. Although the main characters continue from one movie to the next, they never reference events from any of the previous installments.

• Piper Perabo plays Banning's wife Leah in the film. She replaces Radha Mitchell, who played her in the first two movies.

• Aaron Eckhart played President Benjamin Asher in the first two films of the series. Unfortunately he was unable to return for a third outing, so the producers promoted Morgan Freeman to the position.

Freeman's Alan Trumball's has had quite a career trajectory throughout the series. In Olympus Has Fallen, Trumball was the Speaker Of The House. In London Has Fallen he become Vice President. At some point between the second and third films, he was apparently elected President.

This is the second time Freeman's played the President. He did it the first time in 1998's Deep Impact. 

Apparently the filmmakers couldn't afford Morgan Freeman for the entire movie, so he shows up at the beginning, promptly falls into a coma and then reappears in the third act. I bet he shot all his scenes in a single weekend.

• From the second he appeared onscreen, it was obvious that Jennings was up to no good. He's supposed to be Banning's oldest and closest friend, but oddly enough we've never seen him or heard about him before. This retconn made it painfully apparent he was the villain.

Hilariously the movie treats Jenning's treachery as a big reveal. During the President's fishing trip, we cut to a hand pushing a big red button, which activates the drone strike. It's not until halfway through the film that Jennings admits he sent the drones. Yeah, we get it, movie. A five year old could have figured that out.

• Similarly, Jennings receives his orders from a powerful Mystery Man, who pulls the strings from behind the scenes. His identity is also supposed to be a secret, as he always stands in the shadows and speaks with a deep, modulated voice.

Again, it didn't take much effort to figure out the Mystery Man was Vice President Kirby. There was LITERALLY no other character it could be. Banning's the hero, Trumball was in a coma and Leah and Clay were both accounted for.  That left Kirby as the only possible culprit.

Note to aspiring screenwriters— when penning a mystery, it helps greatly to have more than one suspect.

This reminds me of a mystery story I wrote when I was about twelve. I showed it to my friend, and was disappointed when he easily guessed the identity of the murderer halfway through my tale. When I asked how he figured it out so easily, he said, "Welp, you've only got three characters in your story— the victim, the detective and another guy. It's not hard to figure out which of those three did it."

• These days in movies, it's standard operating procedure for middle-aged action stars to be paired with onscreen wives who are half their age (see any movie starring Tom Cruise and a willowly young starlet).

In what may be a first for Hollywood, Gerard Butler, aka Banning, is currently 49. Piper Perabo, who plays Banning's wife Leah, is currently 42. Wow! A seven year age difference! It's typically more like twenty seven! That's amazing!
Angel Has Fallen does something I don't think I've ever seen before in an action movie. Banning, the hero, is actually suffering permanent damage from the various beatings he took in the previous films. 

His doctor even mentions that the numerous concussions he's received over the years are cumulative, and another one may kill him.

That's exactly what would happen in real life, and I'm stunned that anyone would actually put it in a movie like this. Well done, guys!

Annnnnnnd then the producers immediately squander that good will at the end, as Banning's condition is seemingly forgotten. In the final scene, Trumball offers Banning the Dirctor Of The Secret Service job. Banning happily accepts it.

Wait, what? I thought he was suffering from migraines and constant back pain? What about the grave warning that one more concussion could do him in? Did Banning forget about all that? What the hell?
 • When Banning orders the evacuation of the hospital, we see dozens of doctors and nurses running out of the building. We see a scant couple of ambulatory patients slowly hobble out as well. At no time do we see any staff pushing patients in wheelchairs or on gurneys.

So what happened to all the bedridden patients in the hospital? The ones who're in no condition to walk or be moved? I guess they can all just go f*ck themselves, as they all certainly perished when the hospital exploded and collapsed.

• As in virtually all action films, Banning proves his innocence in the end, but he does so by breaking a couple hundred other laws. I guess the President pardoned them all?

Angel Has Fallen is a standard action film that offers few if any surprises, as it's reminiscent of similar, better movies, which is never a good thing. It's also immediately forgettable, to the point where a year from now you'll wonder if you actually saw it. I'd rank it below the first film, but higher than the second, and give it a C+.

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