"Angel Has Fallen": A recap of the past 2 movies

Writer: Casey Chong

Gerard Butler reprises his iconic role as US Secret Service agent Mike Banning for the third time in "Angel Has Fallen".

Created by Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt, both "Olympus Has Fallen" and "London Has Fallen" are derived from the "Die Hard" formula, a premise which typically refers to a lone hero trapped in the confines of a single setting while single-handedly taking down a group of heavily-armed terrorists.

That lone hero in question is US Secret Service agent Mike Banning, played with sheer gusto by Gerard Butler. Both movies weren't exactly critic-friendly but did good business in the worldwide box office, proving the international market for the "Die Hard"-type of action formula is still there.

Now, three years after "London Has Fallen", Gerard Butler and returning co-star Morgan Freeman, who played Allan Trumbull in the first two "Fallen" movies, reprise their respective roles in "Angel Has Fallen".

As the third instalment of the franchise is set to arrive this week, let's take a look back at the previous two "Fallen" movies released in 2013 and 2016 respectively.

"Olympus Has Fallen" (2013)

Gerard Butler plays the lone hero who saves the day in "Olympus Has Fallen".

2013 was the year where the similarly-themed "Die Hard in the White House" action thrillers compete against each other in just a few months apart. First out of the gate was the Antoine Fuqua-directed "Olympus Has Fallen", followed by Roland Emmerich's more expensive "White House Down" starring Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx.

But let's talk about the former movie, the one which starred Gerard Butler as a disgraced Secret Service agent Mike Banning, who was ridden with guilt after blaming himself for the tragic death of US First Lady Margaret (Ashley Judd) in a car accident. Since then, he has been transferred to a desk job but is subsequently back in action when the White House that's under siege by a radical group of North Korean terrorists led by Kang Yeonsak (Rick Yune) puts him back into action. With the US President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) and the rest of the staff held hostage in the bunker, Mike Banning is the only hope left to save the day.

The biggest novelty factor about "Olympus Has Fallen" is the high-concept, though preposterous premise using the "Die Hard"-like formula in a White House setting. The movie is full of implausibility, the kind that requires your suspension of disbelief but kudos to the screenwriting team of Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt for successfully emulating the "Die Hard" formula popularised by Bruce Willis-starred action movie. The story is pacey enough that doesn't waste too much time on expository-heavy scenarios to make a point.

It even helps that Gerard Butler is perfectly typecast as the no-nonsense lone hero Mike Banning and so does his best John McClane-like impersonation when comes to cracking one-liners (e.g. "Let's play a game of f--- off. You go first."). The movie is also best remembered for Butler's highly-anticipated comeback to the gritty action role after spending the last few years making poorly-received comedies such as "The Bounty Hunter" (2010) and "Playing For Keeps" (2012).

Then, there's Antoine Fuqua, who made good use of the R-rating (18) for the violent action sequences. The movie's best action set-piece arrived earlier, notably the 15-minute ambush sequence on the White House beginning with the enemy's air attack to the ground assault. But the movie stumbles every now and then once it takes place in the White House as Butler's Mike Banning navigates through the rooms and hidden tunnels, where the lights are either goes dark, or is poorly lit, a result that made the shootout and hand-to-hand combat sequences all the more frustrating to watch.

Although "Olympus Has Fallen" was greeted with terribly mixed reviews, the movie manages to rake sizable chunks of money at the worldwide box office against a reported USD70 million budget, just enough to warrant a sequel three years later.

"London Has Fallen" (2016)

Gerard Butler and Aaron Eckhart in a scene from "London Has Fallen".

Let's face it, "Olympus Has Fallen" works better as a one-off movie, particularly given its title and the "Die Hard in the White House" novelty factor. But the ever-stubborn Hollywood and the studio behind the movie will always find ways to come up with a sequel no matter how unnecessary it may sound to most audiences.

Which brings us "London Has Fallen", a sequel that basically no one asked for and it has nothing to do with the White House being held under siege. Instead, the movie is just as obvious as the title itself: the city of London is brought to a near standstill, following an elaborate Pakistani terrorist attack led by the vengeful arms dealer Aamir Barkawi (Alon Moni Aboutboul). The plot, which is once again written by Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt with additional inputs from Christian Gudegast and Chad St. John, concocted an even more implausible premise that followed the sequel's "go-big-or-go-home" tradition: Barkawi's terrorist group orchestrates a mass attack that kills most of the world leaders during the state funeral of a deceased British Prime Minister James Wilson. Not surprisingly, among the world leaders who attended the funeral is the US President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) alongside his trusty Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler). Both of them manage to survive the attack and are soon working together to stay alive.

Upon release, "London Has Fallen" managed to make over USD200 million in the international box office against a moderate USD60 million budget. It sure worked well for international audiences, given its universal action-movie appeal and Gerard Butler playing the lead role. The sequel is no doubt ludicrous to the point it wears its xenophobia and insensitivity like a badge of (dis)honour, and is the kind of movie where logic doesn't really apply while the cartoonish antagonists are straight out from a B-movie fantasyland.

That said, "London Has Fallen" is best approached with a certain mindset. Leave your brains at the door and just enjoy the movie's mindless thrill ride. And for that, it somehow works, thanks to Iranian-Swedish filmmaker Babak Najafi (2012's "Easy Money II: Hard To Kill") who actually does a better job in delivering pacey direction and surprisingly well-staged action sequences. Gone are the shaky camerawork and fast editing previously seen in Antoine Fuqua-directed "Olympus Has Fallen", as Najafi, alongside cinematographer Ed Wild, favours crisp and clean-cut action set-pieces. The CG may have been terribly spotty but it's hard to deny its pulse-quickening action scenes such as the thrilling car chase involving a gang of armed motorcyclists and a single-take nighttime shootout scene along the streets of London.

Cinema Online, 21 August 2019

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