‘Angel Has Fallen’ Adds a Dose of Reality for Third Installment of Gerard Butler Trilogy 

He’s taken on North Korean terrorists in “Olympus Has Fallen,” brought down Pakistani radicals in “London Has Fallen,” and now Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is faced with a threat closer to home in “Angel Has Fallen.” A lot has changed in the three short years since the release of the last film, not only in the real world but also in the U.S. Banning lives in. President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) has served his terms, and now Allan Trumball (Morgan Freeman), the veep in the previous two installments, holds the highest office in the land. Having cheated death time and time again for his country, Banning once again longs for a more domestic existence with his wife, Leah (Piper Perabo) and their baby daughter, but the simple life proves to be as elusive as ever.

Even Gerard Butler ages, and the once seemingly invincible Banning now needs pain pills to get through the day, a fact he has kept secret from all those around him. However, he does draw strength from his friendship with Wade Jennings (Danny Huston), an old army buddy who now runs a private military contracting firm. Banning is contemplating taking a more cushy desk job when it comes time for him to go on what is to be a relaxing fishing trip with Trumball, but as soon as he tells Leah he’ll be back in a few days, the viewer knows better. Sure enough, there’s an attack on the president’s life right there in the lake, and although Banning saves Trumball, the rest of the security team is wiped out by a fleet of drones. Next thing Banning knows he’s in a hospital handcuffed to a bed, accused of being the mastermind the deadly plot.

It only gets crazier from there as Banning finds himself up against his toughest foe yet, a former ally who has had all the training advantages he had. The only person who can speak up for him, Trumball, is in a coma, which means the vice-president, Kirby (Tim Blake Nelson) now has all the power. The main bad guy is revealed early on, and it’s not terribly difficult to predict with whom he’s in cahoots. Still, it’s the crazy conspiracy that makes “Angel Has Fallen” a fun ride. That and Nick Nolte as Clay Banning, Mike’s estranged father whom he turns to for the first time in his life. The elder Banning is the perfect foil to his son, because while Mike has devoted his life to his government, Clay, who now lives off the grid, turned his back on his country and most of civilization due to his PTSD from his service in Vietnam. He has also forsaken grooming and most forms of technology. Still, the old man has more than a few tricks up his sleeve, and it’s amusing to watch Butler and Nolte spar. As for Leah, she is a more active character this time around, particularly when she goes head to head with Helen Thompson (Jada Pinkett Smith), a dedicated FBI agent initially convinced of Banning’s guilt.

While “Angel Has Fallen” is still very much a popcorn movie, there’s an underlying tension that was lacking in the previous two films. With our current political climate being what it is, director Ric Roman Waugh and the screenwriters could not help but pull a little from reality, as there’s even a mention of Russian interference in elections. Also, the idea that the our biggest threats are not foreign enemies but dangerous people right here in our own country and even our government doesn’t feel particularly far-fetched. But what this cinematic world has that we don’t is President Morgan Freeman, who does what he does best here as the reassuring authority figure. At one point we even get a glimpse of him inserted into a shot with numerous world leaders, standing right next to Putin, and it seems like the most natural thing in the universe. 

Angel Has Fallen” opens Aug. 23 nationwide.