Saturday, May 16, 2009

Angels & Demons (**1/2)

Angels & Demons.  140 mins.  PG-13.  Directed by Ron Howard.  Written by David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman.  Starring Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer, Stellan Skarsgard, and Armin Mueller-Stahl.

I guess it was inevitable that Ron Howard and Tom Hanks would choose to do a follow-up to their enormously successful (if only at the box office) adaptation of Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code.  And though it made a lot of money, The DaVinci Code was thoroughly trashed by critics (this one included) and it makes sense that Howard would try to redeem himself.  But after seeing Angels & Demons, one thing becomes abundantly clear: no matter how talented the filmmakers, Dan Brown's books do not translate well to the big screen, and there really isn't anything to be done about it.  

This time around (Angels & Demons is treated like a sequel here, even though it's really a prequel), symbologist Robert Langdon (Hanks) is brought in by the Vatican to save the Catholic Church from the secret organization known as the Illuminati, which has kidnapped four Cardinals (and possible replacements for the recently deceased Pope) and are threatening to kill each one every hour before they blow up the Vatican at midnight.  This is all some sort of payback for the Church's treatment of science, and as Langdon races from church to church trying to stop the murders, all sorts of religious intrigue ensues.  Credit should be given to Howard and his collaborators for trying so hard to make this an exciting movie.  Even when the dialogue falls flat and not much is happening, Howard constantly moves the camera in and around the actors in a swirling dervish fashion, and gives all of the proceedings a sense of urgency.  It was a wise choice to shoot on location in Rome and around the Vatican and that grounds the movie in realism, even when so much of the plot hinges on an utterly ridiculous explosive device known only as "anti-matter."  

But as game as the filmmakers are here, they are stymied every step of the way by the main character of Robert Langdon.  The only discerning trait about him is that he' s an agnostic surrounded by religion.  Hanks doesn't seem to know what to do with him either - he plays it straight up, with no humor, sex appeal, or joy.  At least when Nicolas Cage was solving puzzles in the National Treasure flicks, you could see how excited his character was to be doing it.  Here, Langdon is just putting in another day at work.  He's dull and lifeless, as are the characters around him.  That just sucks any sort of energy or excitement out of the movie, and it's near impossible for Howard to make up for it, no matter how hard he tries.  

Angels & Demons is predictable too (spoiler alert!) - when everything seems to wrap itself up at the two-hour mark, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that with 20 minutes still left in the movie, it's about time for Ewan McGregor's seemingly hero priest to reveal his darker intentions.  And, as if right on cue, that's exactly what happens.  The best thing that can be said about Angels & Demons is that it's better than The DaVinci Code, but, as anybody who's seen DaVinci can attest, that is faint praise indeed.


P.S. I propose a new guide to reviewing movies.  One simple question: should I go see this or should I go see Star Trek again?  Angels & Demons?  Go see Star Trek again.


Post a Comment

<< Home