The film opens on Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), holed up inside a container, as armed men surround him and search the building complex for him. Armed with only a pistol, there is a tension in the air. Then, as suddenly as a match is struck, he springs into action, clearing rooms of his assailants like clockwork. However, just as he is about to escape the container complex, he is shot – by a paintball, revealing that it was a training exercise. Mike was training with his old friend, Wade Jennings of private military contractor firm Salient International.
It’s no surprise that Angel Has Fallen has chosen such a high-octane scene to start with. The movie itself has a very heavy emphasis on satisfying action sequences straight out of the fantasies of any military fan. The movie runs through its setting very quickly, and handles its main themes very briefly and refuses to explore further than skin deep.
President Trumbull, played delightfully by Morgan Freeman, seeks to pass a law that would require Congressional approval to declare war, an allusion to the War Powers Act; it uses the same talking points that lionise veterans as heroes being misused by the presidential administrations.
The movie prominently features the Russians’ efforts to increase their war potential, which serves as the excuse for Vice President Kirby to attempt to declare war on Russia. The linchpin of the plot lies in the conspiracy between VP Kirby and Wade to assassinate President Trumbull, and blame Mike for it, while also framing him for a fictitious involvement with Kremlin. The plot itself is plausible, but has so many holes and is so unrealistic that one can’t not ruminate about them.
Kirby is, plain and simple, a hawkish leader who wishes to use war as a means of making America great again (cough, cough). The more interesting villain is Wade, who constantly expresses the view that he is a lion, just like Mike, and as such craves the adrenaline of frontline combat.
If you’re able to look past the story holes for the action, however, that is where the real gem of Angel Has Fallen lies. Even with the action sequences liberally sprinkled into the film, the viewer is still left wanting for more. My personal favourites are a short sequence in the forest, and later the facility defense that constituted the final climax of the film.
For all its realism, Angel Has Fallen cannot escape from its need to fulfill action hero tropes. Mike, even though suffering from physical injuries that cause chronic pain and discomfort, is somehow able to take down half a dozen men in the final fight.
At one point, frenemies Banning and Wade sit down to have their final conversation, which sums up the strange concoction of competing hawkish and dovish foreign policies but somehow still pro-military voices that are present in this movie.