I have no intention of ranking the ...Has Fallen films. They haven't earned that. You rank things because it is fun to think about their relative merits, not their relative flaws; one could as well rank one's sinus infections as rank the ...Has Fallen films. But I will, albeit sullenly, hazard the quasi-praise that Angel Has Fallen, the third film in what looks like a perpetual franchise at this point, is also the one that has the fewest deficiencies. I wouldn't go so far as to say that means it has the most strengths - I think I would still give the thinnest edge to 2013's Olympus Has Fallen, which has an admirably straightforward sense of purpose - but it does mean I wasn't in a particularly rotten mood after walking out of it, and for the series that last produced London Has Fallen in 2016, I consider that to be something close enough to an achievement that it counts.

The closest that Angel Has Fallen comes to extending the story of its two predecessors is that Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) has completed his tour of the halls of governmental power in the United States, having gone from Speaker of the House in 2013 (serving as acting president), to Vice President in 2016 (serving as acting president), to now serving as President in his own right (though he will be, in due course, replaced by an acting president). And he has the good sense to have hand-picked as his most favorite Secret Service agent our boy Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), who has single-handedly saved Western democracy twice now. Indeed, he hopes that Banning will take the mantle of Director of the Secret Service, what with the impending retirement of David Gentry (Lance Reddick, who also appeared in Olympus's head-to-head competitor White House Down) from that role. But Banning, he's like, a man's man, you know? He can't be tied down to an office, he needs to be out there in the hunt. Why, he just had a conversation about that very topic in the film's opening scene, with his good old service buddy Wade Jennings (Danny Huston), who now runs a private paramilitary group called Salient Global. Which is a fucking hilarious name for a paramilitary group.

Anyway, this is all about to become academic, because during a fishing trip in Pennsylvania, the president is attacked by a whole damn legion of bat-like drones, and while Banning's quick thinking keeps Trumbull alive, every other member of the large Secret Service team dies horribly. A few hours later, Banning groggily arises in a hospital to learn from FBI Agent Helen Thompson (Jada Pinkett Smith) that Trumbull is in a coma, Vice President Martin Kirby (Tim Blake Nelson) is itching to seriously overreach with his acting presidential powers, and Banning is the prime and only suspect in the plot to assassinate the president. Luckily for Banning, he is the most physically capable human being in North America, even with the script's inconsistent feints towards his ganked-up spine and badly-concussed brain, and he has no trouble at all staying several steps ahead of the U.S. government. He is, however, much less successful in staying clear of the mysterious organisation that did plan the assassination. And I say "mysterious", but the film makes it clear almost immediately that it was Salient, and Jennings is using his intimate knowledge of Banning to keep his men nipping at our hero's feet. Which comes as no surprise - you don't cast Danny Huston and then not reveal him to be the secret bad guy - but I was still caught off guard by how little effort the five writers put into delaying the twist, or giving it any kind of emotional "whoomph" when it arrives.

Alright, so if Olympus Has Fallen was "Die Hard in the White House" this one is "The Fugitive about presidential assassination", and it's no closer to living up to that standard than the first one actually resembled Die Hard. Freed from the obvious story problems of the other two ...Has Fallen pictures, Angel lets us take a good long look at the other fundamental problem this franchise has always suffered from, which is that it committed early on to being in the Gerard Butler business. And that is a bad business to be in, aesthetically as well as financially (this series is just about the only place that the star is actually bankable). The concept of "it" (as in, "that actor hasΒ it")Β is famously elusive, but whatever it is, Butler ain't got it. This isn't news, of course, but it's front and center in Angel Has Fallen, given how much Butler's gravelly growling sneers fail to do any work at all to make Banning seem actually threatened or tired or at his wits' end. There is never the remotest possibility of him failing, since Butler simply does not seem to understand how to give him doubt or weakness - and this in a film that has specifically introduced physical weakness as a major plot point. Plus, Angel lets us compare him directly to an actor who does have it, in spades: Nick Nolte pops into the film three times, and each time he introduces a limber, goofy humanity into a film that desperately yearns for a sense of humor. He's equal parts tetchy weirdo with a psycho beard and wacky sitcom grandpa, and his scenes are easily the best thing in any of the ...Has Fallen movies yet. Hell, even without Nolte coming in to up-end the whole franchise, the film has Pinkett Smith as another keen example of it: even despite her inane, underwritten, under-used role, the film grows noticeably sharper and more enjoyably terse when she's onscreen.

So if there is a reason to set Angel Has Fallen at the top of its series, it's got a lot to do with those two; it definitely doesn't have to do with the action, which is leaden and dominated mostly by noise and choppy editing, nor with the plot, which is less convoluted than London, but not really any more interesting, and definitely not enough to justify that, at 121 minutes, this is longer than that film by more than 20 minutes. Mostly, it involves a lot of skulking around corners and people declaring shit as they look at monitors, on the way to a finale that surely isn't actually as long as it feels, while people scream over gunfire as they stand in front of nondescript walls. The film just isn't fun; third time in a row that's been true for a ...Has Fallen film, but if you can't make this kind of nonsensical '80s-style action fun, what the hell is the point? These movies are to their genre as Butler is to acting: there's a teeth-clenching, vein-popping strain and seriousness about the whole affair that's too effortful and exhausting to watch for them to work as dopey entertainment.

Reviews in this series
Olympus Has Fallen (Fuqua, 2013)
London Has Fallen (Najafi, 2016)
Angel Has Fallen (Waugh, 2019)