Angels & Demons (Movie Review)

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Note: Holy crap, this is a long review. Over twice as long as I usually write 'em.

Angels & Demons

In describing his feelings to the critical reception to 2006's The Da Vinci Code, director Ron Howard often used the word "frustrating." This is a rather appropriate one word summation of the film and everything that revolved around it. The source material, plotting, characters, screenplay, expectations, and limitations imposed on the adaptation of the Da Vinci Code would frustrate any director trying to craft a decent film from it, and I'll be frank when I say that it largely doesn't matter since Ron Howard was frustrated to a gross revenue on the prettier side of $750 million. But the mere fact that Howard was at all concerned with the reception despite the fact that it was destined to sell no matter what he made is cause for hope with Angels & Demons, a sequel film from a prequel novel. Howard knows that Angels & Demons will sell regardless of quality, but the fact he will still try and make a good film from the messy material is laudable of itself.

Angels & Demons is one of the rare adaptations where I had actually read the book far in advance of even the announcement of the film. Rarer still is how I experienced the book the way it was meant to be. You see, Angels & Demons (and by extension Digital Fortress, Deception Point, and The Da Vinci Code), is a book designed to be read at airports and during long flights. I was on a trip from Toronto to Los Angeles, a trip sadly predating my possession of a Nintendo DS, and I had picked up Angels & Demons as something to kill time. To that extent and only that extent is Angels & Demons a good book.

The book Angels & Demons is a breezy page turner, not meant to be taken seriously despite the pretensions of Dan Brown's will. Taken out of that context, the book is a complete joke, and this is nowhere more apparent than in its film adaptation. All airport written novels are weak stories padded out with cheap thrills and cliché, designed like a breakneck Hollywood blockbuster but lacking any semblance of credibility like character, wit, or even entertainment. It's a deadly cycle of book/film/book/film rip-off to the point of nausea where no one remembers where it all began, but we all agree that it's a mushy mess of mediocrity. Angels & Demons almost comes full circle, representing everything that's wrong with the genre while bilking powerful executives to grant a credible director with a hundred million dollar budget for a tenfold return.

image

The use of light creates some very effective images...

With expectations so low, the film adaptation could only be worse than its source if I walked out of the theatre with leprosy. Since I don't have any skin lesions (yet), Angels & Demons must be somewhat successful.

Robert Langdon is a Harvard Symbologist who, fresh after cracking The Da Vinci Code, is roped into yet another religious conspiracy as a mysterious Illuminati symbol appears to be threatening Vatican City shortly after the death of the pope. He and his partner Vittoria Vetra, a scientist working with anti-matter (a.k.a. the "God Particle") at the Large Hadron Collider, are tasked with retrieving a stolen anti-matter canister hidden somewhere in Vatican City. The anti-matter will destroy a sizeable chunk of Italy if fallen out of electro-magnetic suspension when the battery dies at midnight, and it's up to them to save the day because the Swiss Guard are utterly useless.

The constant barrage of enlightenment era names and works throughout the film may intimidate certain audiences as being subject matter a bit too intellectually highbrow. If you can't tell the difference between Sanzio and Bernini, let me assure you that you're not alone and that it really doesn't matter. The little details are so casually referenced that they quickly become debased into meaning absolutely nothing and in no time at all they take a backseat to the frantic pace Angels & Demons must maintain. Excitement is the order of the day, lest the film be skewered like its predecessor for being occasionally boring. Many of the film's other problems like plot and relevance can be easily forgiven providing it maintains a sense of motion.

Where Angels & Demons struggles is its apprehension to throw out the events of the book in favour of creating a better story. There have been some alterations, but the changes aren't significant and only reflect a desire to speed up the procession of the film and not to make the film any better or worse, giving the impression that screenwriters Koepp and Goldsman have some form of reverence for the original story (raucous laughter). Instead of using the book as merely a jumping off point for the film while breaking out the glue and scissors to craft something more appropriate for the medium à la the Bourne series (which also shares the airport gibberish backing), Howard and company take as much as is possible from the original book as if there was a rabid fanbase to appease à la Watchmen. The film is stuck in limbo, desperately trying to come into its own yet it resists severing the necessary connections to its foundation. I am criticizing its adherence to its source because its source is not very good.

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... as well as some very unnecessary and misplaced ones...

With Angels & Demons futile predilections for its origin comes the realization that Robert Langdon is a terribly uninteresting character. It's rather remarkable that after two lengthy outings, it's still impossible to give a damn about what happens to him. There are occasional moments where he begins to earn our empathy or interest, such as the quirk with his red Mickey Mouse timepiece, but the plot's urgency immediately whisks it all away, turning him into another casualty in the war between Brown's two most beloved characters, Science and Religion. A certain realization dawned on me towards the end of the film that perhaps we're not supposed to see Langdon, Vetra, Camerlengo, Richter, Strauss, etc. as characters, but as vehicles for the aforementioned great all encompassing thesis of the movie. Naturally, this is a stupid idea. Turning the characters into thematic soldiers widens the gap between the film and our interest, and destroys any subtlety or nuance that Brown might have accidentally written. And it just goes downhill from there. A deafening crowd of confused Christians amasses in St. Peter's Square during the papal protocols, and a shot focuses on a nun and a religiously lapsed man debate the merits of knowledge and faith. "Ignoring stem cell research is murder!" he screams. "Man is not God!" she retorts. That's Angels & Demons' issue in a nutshell.

To the film's credit, characterizing the two ends of the debate nearly works, but the shame is that it could've been had both ways. The characters are mere autonomous tools, not active agents. I like the idea of Cardinals being infinitely patient and virtuous men, aware of the flaws of its institution while still admiring its perseverance, and I like the idea of scientists being a bit too hasty and arrogant, eager to ride one invention until next year's model. I just wish they didn't wait until the last act to shift into this gear. That said, depending on your own personal feelings towards the Science vs. Religion argument, it's possible to emerge from the film enraged, cheated, or entirely placated. Certainly the ending is a bit of a copout from the argument, but it provides the requisite twist necessary to tie off the film. Most people would be too exhausted to care by that point anyway.

Angels & Demons is an improvement from its predecessor, largely because it makes the most of what it settles on working with. Ludicrous plot and bland character aside, it keeps moving once it falls into a solid groove and should keep people who haven't read the book engaged. If you have read the book though, this adaptation is far too faithful and not nearly inventive enough to be worth a look.

This movie looks good.

Oh, Nice review also.

Got it. I'll watch the movie and read another book instead. Nice job.

by the way, doesnt "a la" mean "to the" in french. So literal translation would be "to the watchmen"? this phrase "a la" confuses me so

pimppeter2:
by the way, doesnt "a la" mean "to the" in french. So literal translation would be "to the watchmen"? this phrase "a la" confuses me so

Same here. That's why I went to Wikipedia to find out.

My intended usage in the review is "in the manner/style/fashion of ____."

Maet:
My intended usage in the review is "in the manner/style/fashion of ____."

Yea I got that, just thought it is funny in general usage

great review, btw

You've basically summed up everything I hate about the Da Vinci Code series.

It starts out with some substance until it runs the entire thing into the ground with mediocrity and no realistic or satisfying conclusions.

McClaud:
It starts out with some substance until it runs the entire thing into the ground with mediocrity and no realistic or satisfying conclusions.

You mean like:
"Hey, turns out you're the descendant of Christ, which is what any of the creepy people who've raised you most of your life could've told you."
"Okay. I'm going to keep it to myself anyway."
"Alright."

-- Alex

funily enough, I'm going to see the movie today. I hope it's good.

I read the Da Vinci code then I read Digitaial Fortress then I started Decption Point and stopped because i tought I was reading the same excat book just with a diffrent setting. I read some of angel's and Demons and found it okay but didn't finish. My point is all of his books are the same stupid plot with a diffrent location each time. Also your review was very good.

My parents are dragging me to the movies to see this film tomorrow morning. Should be fun.

On the plus side it means it'll be a lot easier to see Star Trek again today...

...Damn.

That is a excellently written review. Also, I think Dan Brown's works are rather meh. I won't be seing this one.

I have to agree with IGN about this movie...it was like watching my history class, but with Tom Hanks...

pimppeter2:
by the way, doesnt "a la" mean "to the" in french. So literal translation would be "to the watchmen"? this phrase "a la" confuses me so

It can also mean "in the". For example, "A la mode" means "in the fashion."

I love the review. You hit all the high points, and I really appreciate that you called Dan Brown out for what he is: an author who disguises drug-store literature with a facade of high art and religious conspiracy theory.

I read the book, and as you predicted I did not care for the movie. I thought that the lighting made it look like a made for TV movie and Tom Hanks as Langdon was stuffy and unlikable. The acting was stiff and the movie took itself so seriously that it was afraid to crack a joke or two. The highlight, I would say, was Armin Mueller-Stahl as the very self-assured but good-hearted cardinal.

I read the book a couple of months before i knew about the movie coming out. I went go see the movie, and it might as well have been a whole different named story. Alot of the important scenes were taken out, and the MUSLIM ASSASSIN was replaced with a White Israeli (most likely). I bet that would have created a problem with the government because the book was written before 9/11... right?

Maet:
*great review*

Damn, we need to hack into a major news service and publish this across the globe so that people will stop buying that trash. I remember how my mom bought this for me, lovingly telling me it mentions anti-matter. I didn't want to break her heart and tell her that I had already read it on a six-hour bus ride on a ski trip. I shouldn't exactly say read; I fell asleep halfway through (I was tired, but the book didn't help).

Anyway, excellent review. You covered all your bases and you've got a good handle on your vocabulary and delivery.

I'm not sure though, I'm either a sadist or I really wish Langdon would just die already so that he can stop spreading fallacies about the Illuminati and CERN.

Fuck Dan Brown.

Great review, as always Maet, but tell me this: I follow Hans Zimmer's work closely, and I found that he's done the score for this movie. During your viewing, how was the music?

I always found Angels and Demons better than The Da Vinci Code because I took pleasure in the idea of the Catholic church being blown to hell (no pun intended) and it's members branded and tortured... but thats more something I should talk to a psychologist about. The Da Vinci Code book was just bad, and the movie was horrible. Angels and Demons was mediocore and by that logic I'm not going anywhere near the damned movie... I'll stick with Terminator

orannis62:

pimppeter2:
by the way, doesnt "a la" mean "to the" in french. So literal translation would be "to the watchmen"? this phrase "a la" confuses me so

It can also mean "in the". For example, "A la mode" means "in the fashion."

*Ding* The more you know

RebelRising:
Great review, as always Maet, but tell me this: I follow Hans Zimmer's work closely, and I found that he's done the score for this movie. During your viewing, how was the music?

I don't think Hans Zimmer wrote the entire score. I recognize the theme he set in The Da Vinci Code over the opening titles and some other areas, but really I recall the score being percussion/low end oriented which leads me to believe that he was merely music supervisor. There are occasional moments of energetic violin trills and flourishes, but generally it's not as iconic as, say, Pirates of the Caribbean.

Truth be told, I didn't really notice the score that much (I'm not exactly the biggest fan of Zimmer) but I might download it and give it a listen.

CuddlyCombine:

I'm not sure though, I'm either a sadist or I really wish Langdon would just die already so that he can stop spreading fallacies about the Illuminati and CERN.

It's not over yet. Brown is supposed to publish The Solomon Key (once again starring Robert Langdon) in the fall, and I believe Hollywood's already got the film rights.

Well, I pretty much already knew that Angels + Demons was going to turn out to be rubbish much like what the Da Vinci Code allegedly was, i.e., highbrow intellectualism, anti-Catholicism, and half-baked mysteries all thrown into a blender, but I liked your review nonetheless. I look forward to seeing more of you in the future.

The_Oracle:
highbrow intellectualism

Err, pseudo-intellectualism at best. Ideas dressed up to look like they have substance.

-- Alex

i didnt like the book, But i Liked the movie.

Great review - I wouldn't have watched this film anyway but you've summed up what I feared it would be...

Just going back to the books for a moment; Angels and demons was written before the Da Vinci Code. Having read them in chronological order I found that A&D was actually far better than the Da Vinci Code. I wouldn't read any of them again though.

I quickly got very bored of Dan Brown, the conspiracy hype seems to be the strongest element of his books. Airport reading is a great summary.

Wait until they do a movie of Digital Fortress (First book in the series), then you'll see how bad it can get...

Alex_P:

The_Oracle:
highbrow intellectualism

Err, pseudo-intellectualism at best. Ideas dressed up to look like they have substance.

-- Alex

True. Very true.

CuddlyCombine:

Maet:
*great review*

Damn, we need to hack into a major news service and publish this across the globe so that people will stop buying that trash. I remember how my mom bought this for me, lovingly telling me it mentions anti-matter. I didn't want to break her heart and tell her that I had already read it on a six-hour bus ride on a ski trip. I shouldn't exactly say read; I fell asleep halfway through (I was tired, but the book didn't help).

Anyway, excellent review. You covered all your bases and you've got a good handle on your vocabulary and delivery.

I'm not sure though, I'm either a sadist or I really wish Langdon would just die already so that he can stop spreading fallacies about the Illuminati and CERN.

Yep, nearly died laughing then. Hollywood up to it's old tricks again.

Maet:

pimppeter2:
by the way, doesnt "a la" mean "to the" in french. So literal translation would be "to the watchmen"? this phrase "a la" confuses me so

Same here. That's why I went to Wikipedia to find out.

My intended usage in the review is "in the manner/style/fashion of ____."

Never pay heed to literal translation, you used it correctly (enough, considering your speaking English not French and truthfully you used it completely wrong because it's not the same language, but that's irrelevent).

Let me sum up the movie:

Tom Hanks: HEY, IT'S POINTING THIS WAY!
*everyone moves that way*
*finds dead guy*
*repeat*

ThisNewGuy:
Let me sum up the movie:

Tom Hanks: HEY, IT'S POINTING THIS WAY!
*everyone moves that way*
*finds dead guy*
*repeat*

Compare and contrast to Da Vinci Code:

Tom Hanks: HEY, IT'S POINTING THIS WAY!
*everyone moves that way*
*repeat*

-- Alex

Alex_P:

ThisNewGuy:
Let me sum up the movie:

Tom Hanks: HEY, IT'S POINTING THIS WAY!
*everyone moves that way*
*finds dead guy*
*repeat*

Compare and contrast to Da Vinci Code:

Tom Hanks: HEY, IT'S POINTING THIS WAY!
*everyone moves that way*
*repeat*

-- Alex

I'm guessing you didn't watch Angels and Demons. I mean LITERALLY, Tom Hanks goes up to this statue and it literally points somewhere, and he says, "This way!" That is the entire plot.

ThisNewGuy:
I'm guessing you didn't watch Angels and Demons. I mean LITERALLY, Tom Hanks goes up to this statue and it literally points somewhere, and he says, "This way!" That is the entire plot.

I didn't watch it, but I'm quite aware of how sucky the plot is (since it is, like you said, just following some waypoints). That's how I feel about Da Vinci Code, too; it just dressed up the waypoints with handwaving about the sacred feminine.

-- Alex

The main problem I had with the movie was that the-

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