First, he took on the North Koreans; then he faced down jihadists. Now creaking Secret Service veteran Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) faces his ultimate adversary: literally everybody else. The suitably preposterous but mostly pretty watchable conclusion to the surprisingly hardy ‘…Has Fallen’ franchise borrows a note or two from ‘The Fugitive’, ‘First Blood’ and ‘Enemy of the State’ as its hero is set up to take the fall for an attempted hit on the President and is left on the run and trying to clear his name. It’s frenetic, brashly executed and so full of shooting, you’ll stagger away with tinnitus.
One-time stuntman Ric Roman Waugh steps in as the franchise’s third different director, but sticks close to a blueprint – choppy editing, CGI-enhanced action, wafer-thin characterisation – that’s grooved like a gun barrel by now. He does bring his early-career skills to bear in a standout early sequence involving a presidential fishing trip interrupted by swarms of killer drones and more flying bodies than an ‘A-Team’ supercut. With POTUS (Morgan Freeman) in a coma and Banning the only other survivor, the FBI (led by Jada Pinkett Smith) are soon on his trail, along with the clued-up villains and various armed NRA types.
The bad guys are slick and the politics vaguely topical – Tim Blake Nelson plays a hawkish VP with a Trump-y edge – while Butler has his rumpled hard-man schtick down to a tee. This is a franchise where ‘having a bad back’ counts as a major character trait, so don’t come looking for new layers and depths. There’s a bit more on Banning’s family and conflict over a promotion, but the writers know it’s not his sensitive side that has audiences coming back for more.
If the script is crying out for a few more of the enjoyably self-aware payoff lines of ‘Olympus Has Fallen’, this one has a secret weapon: Nick Nolte. Mostly, these movies have cast fine actors and given them rote roles and ropey dialogue to work with (or in the case of Aaron Eckhart in ‘Olympus…’, handcuff them to a wall), but Nolte lands a cracker. He doesn’t disappoint, bringing gravitas and some big laughs as a hermetic Vietnam veteran with explosives issues. Finally, Banning may have met his match.