Directed by Ric Roman Waugh (Shot Caller), Angel Has Fallen is the third film in the [Something] Has Fallen franchise, in which Gerard Butler stars as President-protecting bodyguard Mike Banning. After terrorists invaded the White House in Olympus Has Fallen (2013) and more terrorists flooded the streets of London in London Has Fallen (2016), this third instalment is refreshingly terrorist-free, though rest assured, things still get blown up with both regularity and wild abandon.
As the film opens, Banning (Butler) is feeling the pinch a bit, having hidden various career-bothering injuries from both his Secret Service colleagues and his boss, President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman, receiving a promotion after playing Vice-President in the two previous films). However, that's the least of his worries, because when an assassination attempt occurs on Banning's watch, he's swiftly framed for the murder of his colleagues and has to stay one step ahead of both the FBI and his own people in order to track down those responsible.
The previous two films in the franchise suffered from what might charitably be called a tone problem. Not only were they frequently racist (best just to ignore Banning barking “Go back to Fuckheadistan!”), but there was a sadistic quality to the violence that was almost gleeful, with Banning seeming to actively enjoy stabbing terrorists in the face.
This time round, the unpleasant qualities of Olympus and London have been significantly dialled back, with the result that Angel is actually quite good fun. Even the swear-count has been reduced, though Banning still drops f-bombs whenever the occasion demands it.
Even Banning himself is a lot more fun to be around this time, largely because of a couple of sympathy-inducing screenplay shortcuts, like his ongoing health issues, or frequent interactions with his family (Piper Perabo replaces Radha Mitchell as wife Leah Banning). There's also likeable support from Freeman, while Jada Pinkett Smith is good value as a no-nonsense FBI agent and Danny Huston adds unexpected layers to what could easily have been a straightforward villain role as Banning's former friend Wade Jennings.
In fairness to the script, it doesn't even bother to treat Jennings being the bad guy as a shock reveal, and instead just takes it for granted that the audience knew it was coming – that's actually quite a refreshing change for a Hollywood thriller. In addition, the script keeps things moving at a decent pace and ensures a steady flow of action set-pieces, even if it's fair to say that dialogue isn't exactly its strong suit.
As director, Ric Roman Waugh clearly knows his way around a shoot-out, which is just as well, as there are loads of them. He can also stage an explosion (or, indeed, a series of explosions) with the best of them, resulting in a handful of exciting sequences where things go boom, even if one of them is a hospital. To that end, the special effects are a vast improvement on both the previous films, suggesting a significant boost to the budget for the third instalment.
In short, this is a franchise that has evidently been told to clean up its act a bit if it wants to play with the big boys. The surprise is that it works. Die-hard fans may bemoan the franchise's loss of edge, but for undiscerning Friday night multiplex purposes, this is easily the best of the Has Fallens so far.