Angel Has Fallen: is Gerard Butler Hollywood’s weirdest action hero? | Film

The many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics states that every possible outcome to every decision ever made will each happen, and each outcome exists in its own parallel universe. I am telling you this because Angel Has Fallen – the third of Gerard Butler’s Has Fallen series, is released this week – and I’m taking it as proof that we all live in the wrong universe.

Cast your mind back to 2013. As with The Prestige and The Illusionist in 2006, or Armageddon and Deep Impact in 1998, two films with the same premise were released in quick succession. In both, terrorists storm the White House. But only one of them was any good. That film was White House Down, in which Channing Tatum, in his first charismatic rush of true moviestardom, swaggered and winked his way through an insurmountable wall of danger. It was far too stupid to win any awards but, as encapsulated in the scene where Tatum admonishes the president for bonking him on the head with a rocket launcher, its stupidness was self-aware.

The same cannot be said for Olympus has Fallen, where a sentient potato played by Gerard Butler strops around the White House, half-heartedly shooting terrorists and grunting perfunctory one-liners such as “Newsflash asshole, I don’t work for you” and “What don’t you and I play a game of ‘fuck off’? You go first”. It was just as stupid as White House Down, but it had no idea of its stupidity. If White House Down was a toddler on a trampoline, Olympus Has Fallen was a toddler wandering on to a motorway. In another universe – the correct universe – White House Down wiped the floor with Olympus Has Fallen.

But in this existence, Olympus Has Fallen exceeded opening weekend predictions by $7m while White House Down flopped spectacularly and was blamed for the Sony corporation’s £122m quarterly loss. There really is no justice.

Mountain to climb … Olympus Has Fallen.

Mountain to climb … Olympus Has Fallen. Photograph: Everett Collection/Rex Features

And look where we are now. Its success justified the release of 2016’s London Has Fallen, a film so unstoppably hapless that it made its predecessor look like a masterpiece. Working on a budget $10m smaller than the first film, with a set built in Sofia unconvincingly standing in for parts of London, it found the belaboured anti-wit of Olympus Has Fallen replaced by something approaching flat-out racism. At one point Butler’s character, Mike Banning, tells some terrorists to “Pack up your shit and head back to Fuckheadistan”.

London Has Fallen was a parody of an action film. Butler’s character enjoys an intensely regressive locker-room relationship with the president of America, winkingly accusing him of being gay. The terrorists’ big plan turns out to involve blowing up a lot of strategically unimportant landmarks. At one point – and this may count as one of the oddest moments in cinema history – Butler hands the president a glass of water, says “I don’t know about you, but I’m as thirsty as fuck,” and then spends 10 full seconds gulping down the glass of water in its entirety before making an “mmm” noise. It is totally, unintentionally bananas.

Now we have Angel Has Fallen. Banning’s banterpal president Aaron Eckhart is nowhere to be seen. Instead he’s tasked with protecting a new president, played by 82-year-old Morgan Freeman, whom he almost immediately flings off a boat into a lake. But then Banning is framed by the government and is forced to go on the run, because that’s what tends to happen when the writers of this sort of film have to go back to the well more times than they expected.

London Has Fallen.

Tube sock … London Has Fallen. Photograph: Allstar

Oh, and Nick Nolte plays Butler’s dad. Turns out it was nurture, not nature, that made Mike Banning this way.

It’s hard to make a serious case for the Has Fallen films. They are so gratuitously profane and aggressive that they often resemble the fan-fiction of a man who thinks Die Hard 2 is the best film in the series. But if you squint hard enough, and tilt your head at exactly the right angle, it can just about be done.

The key is Mike Banning himself. You never watch the Mission: Impossible films and find yourself wishing that you could follow Ethan Hunt around on a day off. You don’t watch 24 and yearn to spend some downtime with Jack Bauer. But Mike Banning is genuinely odd. He’s like your dad’s best mate, but suddenly placed in a position of tremendous power. He’s frequently removing his blinkers for just long enough to reveal some deeply batty grace notes. When I watch a Has Fallen film, I find myself wishing that I knew more about the man. What compels a person to use the term “Fuckheadistan”? Who creates a game called Fuck Off? How does he vote? How does he behave in restaurants? Why, in god’s name, the water?

The best-case scenario is that we all wake up in the right universe tomorrow, head to the cinema and hoot through the third White House Down film. But failing that, let’s cross our fingers and pray that Has Fallen 4 is an uneventful character study where we just follow Mike Banning around a supermarket for two hours.

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