REVIEW: ‘Angels & Demons’

Grade: D+

After seeing Ron Howard’s latest Dan Brown adaptation, Angels & Demons, I’m not sure what was more dizzying – the constantly rotating camera or the random facts spewing from the mouth of Tom Hanks’ protagonist Robert Langdon. The film was light on story and heavy on fluff and a sub-par effort from the hit-and-miss Howard.

The sequel to 2006’s The Da Vinci Code has been greeted with a lot less controversy, and even some support from the Vatican. Like its predecessor and so many films before it, Angels & Demons attempts to fuse history and fantasy into a thrilling and conspiratorial adventure. While it occasionally succeeds in presenting a solid mystery-adventure, it falls flat overall as it drags along at a snails pace, due in part to the repetitiveness of the story.

The film opens with the recent death of a pope, and a voice-over explaining the centuries old process of inaugurating a new papal figure. In the midst of this transition to a new leader of the Catholic world, a French research company known as CERN is using a giant hadron collider to create anti-matter. In the hectic atmosphere nobody notices as one of the canisters of anti-matter is stolen and the four preferiti (cardinals likely to become pope) are kidnapped. The conspirators belong to a longtime secret society known as the Illuminati, who have now resurfaced and made known their plan to destroy the Vatican in a final act of revenge. Their use of ancient symbols and codes causes Vatican officials to seek the help of our symbologist hero, Robert Langdon.

Dan Brown’s book version of Angels & Demons was written and published before his best-selling Da Vinci Code; however the movies were produced and released in reverse order. In the film version of Angels & Demons, they never really solidify whether or not we are seeing a sequel or a prequel. Occasional references are made to Robert Langdon’s “previous issues” with the Vatican, causing them not to like him very much. This could be referring to his previous ‘Jesus has a wife’ adventure, or just alluding to the fact that he has written novels about the Illuminati.

Regardless of whether or not he has already fought secret societies before, he springs right back into action as the puzzle master, able to figure out every clue and outsmart the most well-trained police officers. The bookish professor can not restrain from spouting out ridiculous amounts of “fun facts” sometimes relating to the action, sometimes just superfluous. Throughout the film he zooms around Vatican City stopping at historical landmarks that are secret checkpoints along the “path of illumination” trying to figure out where the next Cardinal sacrifice will occur. Langdon’s motivations are never 100% clear other than his desire to discover ancient secrets.

Accompanying Langdon are the poorly developed characters Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer), a scientist at CERN, Inspector Olivetti (Pierfrancesco Favino), of the Rome police, and Commander Richter (Stellan Skarsgard), of the Swiss Guard. The only supporting character who really gets developed is Camerlengo Patrick McKenna (Ewan McGregor) who has a dynamic struggle between his faith in an ancient religion and the growing public support of science. McGregor’s performance is honest as the innocent priest who would do anything for his religion. His secret desire to become a martyr for his religion is apparent in McGregor’s subtleties like the look in his eyes of quiet pleasure when he thinks it might be the end for him.

Tom Hanks’ phones in his performance as the protagonist Robert Langdon. The script does not give him much to work worth, but you still get the feel that it’s a “collect the pay check and go home” type of movie for him. The other supporting actors, besides McGregor, are not given enough development to really shine and several characters, particularly the police, just become background.

The film is technically very sloppy. A CGI helicopter looks unrealistic and cartoonish, taking away from the intended drama of the scene. Also, the cinematography is just confusing. Howard and cinematographer Salvatore Totino overuse a 360 degree circling camera shot at points of drama – a shot that should really only be used to circle a kissing couple. The camera moves at points when you want it to stay still, and often stays on one shot for too long.

The one shining point of the film is in the under-utilized Hans Zimmer’s beautiful score. For how many films now has Zimmer’s score been the best thing about the whole movie? The powerful orchestral pieces that Zimmer creates are dramatic and inspirational and made me want to close my eyes and enjoy. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the music shows up at the end of the year in 2009 retrospective pieces.

Bottom Line: Stay away from Angels & Demons as if it were an active canister of anti-matter. However, don’t hesitate to download Hans Zimmer’s fantastic score on iTunes.

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  • none of the films of a series ever seem as good as the original – except the 1st 3 star wars films.

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