It's one of the decade's greatest unsolved mysteries: Why did audiences flock to the ultra-serious Olympus Has Fallen and reject the extremely entertaining White House Down? We may never know, but the former has now spawned two sequels, both from different directors and different studios, despite poor reviews and dwindling box office. But perhaps because my expectations were so low, I found myself enjoying the pure action thriller nonsense of Angel Has Fallen.
Part of the improvement is that this franchise has finally learned to have some fun. The first film took its North Korean invasion seriously, while London Has Fallen engaged in blatant xenophobia. But this entry has thrown that all out the window and made its bad guys motivated by simple greed. It's completely improbable at every turn, and doesn't care. It's all the better for it.
Gerard Butler returns as Secret Service Agent Mike Banning, protecting new president Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman). On a fishing trip, a drone attack kills everyone except for Mike and Trumbull. When Mike awakes in the hospital, he's handcuffed and an FBI agent investigating the murders (Jada Pinkett Smith) accuses him of setting up the hit. The rest of the film is a pretty blatant rip-off of The Fugitive, but since that's one of my all-time favorite movies, that wasn't a problem.
Angel Has Fallen really kicks into high gear when Mike escapes federal custody and tracks down his off-the-grid father, played by Nick Nolte at his wooliest. They work on their broken relationship while blowing stuff up, which doesn't wear out its welcome. They part ways just in time for Mike to try to clear his name and for his dad to protect Mike's wife (Piper Perabo) and son.
All this leads to one of the longest shootouts I've seen in an American movie, an incredibly exciting but absurd climax that's aided by some clever editing. But then there's the movie's biggest flaw, which even mentioning is a major spoiler. Mike's old army buddy Wade was supposed to be played Holt McCallany (Mindhunter). Schedule conflicts required him to drop out, and he was replaced with Danny Huston. I've got nothing against him, but he's played the bad guy in just about everything for the last decade. He looks suspicious any time he's onscreen. So only a person who's never seen him before would be shocked by the reveal.
But that's ultimately not a deal-breaker, as this movie has plenty of insane stunts and additional twists up its sleeve. It's absolutely ridiculous from the jump, and the perfect late-summer shut-off-your-brain flick.