Simon Varsano

Olympus Has Fallen was a forgettable Gerard Butler action movie vehicle best known for being the worse of two "Die Hard in a White House" movies released in 2013. (Here at the Mercury, at least, we haven't forgotten you, White House Down.) London Has Fallen was perfunctory "War on Terror" throwback schlock rife with tasteless xenophobia and mindless jingoism. But Angel Has Fallen, the third movie in the inelegantly named ______ Has Fallen series, pulls off an unexpected trick: It's actually pretty good! Star and co-producer Butler reportedly wanted to sunset the franchise in the spirit of 2017's masterful Logan, and damn if he didn't get pretty close.

Honestly, part of the reason Angel works so well is because it follows two mediocre entries in a mediocre action franchise. Here, secret service super-agent Mike Banning (Butler) is beginning to feel the effects of his previous escapades: He's got a compressed spine, some sort of chronic post-concussion syndrome, and a low-key opioid habit that he hasn't told his wife about. And while he's still fully capable of taking down a dozen elite commandos at a time, these cracks in his action-hero armor contribute to a genuine sense of tension in the film's claustrophobic, deftly choreographed combat.

Writer/Director Ric Roman Waugh, who's made a career of street level crime thrillers, sets the action primarily in rural Pennsylvanian and Virginia, turning what should be a familiar-looking landscape into a forlorn no man's land of floodlit truck stops and washed-out woodland scrub. Gone, too, are the previous entries' generic, non-white terrorist villains, replaced with aggrieved middle-class military contractors brandishing tactical gear and tricked-out automatic rifles. For a franchise that's always felt at least a decade removed from relevance, Angel Has Fallen ends up being an intense, surprisingly of-the-moment action thriller.