Angels & Demons

a film by Ron Howard

When I first saw the Ron Howard helmed, Dan Brown adapted, Tom Hanks acted, conspiracy theorized, church vs. state sex scandal incendiary wannabe The Da Vinci Code back in the pre-Summer days of 2006, I immediately put pen to paper (or as I more appropriately said then, put fingertips to keyboard) and ran my mouth for 2000+ words about how silly and absurd and ultimately how perfunctory the whole kit and kaboodle was. Tom Hanks himself even called it "all sorts of hooey and fun kind of scavenger-hunt-type nonsense". Based on centuries of intellectual conjecture (a lot of which I agree with actually) the film still ends up playing out as puerile as the kitschy Mickey Mouse watch that Hanks' Robert Langdon wears. Pure pop sensationalism at its blatantest. But it was also I film that, despite itself and perhaps despite myself, I actually enjoyed.

Despite its myriad of flaws (not least of which was Ron Howard's pedestrian direction) I found myself actually enjoying Hanks' shaggy symbologist running around looking for the fingerbone of Jesus or the stained blue dress of Mary Magdalene or what have you, with superpowers somewhere between the creator of Rubik's Cube and MacGyver (with a bit of Sudoku thrown in willy nilly) running away from a maniacal flagellating albino assassin and a preening Dame Ian McKellen, all the while trying to convince Amélie that she is the great great great whatever granddaughter of Jesus H. Christ himself. Pure pop sensationalism indeed, but a little bit more than mildly entertaining nonetheless. Backhanded compliment perhaps, but a compliment nonetheless.

Which brings us to the present day as Dan Brown's prequel, Angels & Demons, now twisted into a needless sequel by Howard, hits theatres and tosses all that silly "hooey and fun kind of scavenger-hunt-type nonsense" out the proverbial window. Replete with the same sort of silliness, though grounded a bit more in reality (really!), this story of Papal conspiracy, megalomaniacal priests and the return of the dreaded Illuminati (made out by the Catholic church to be just this side of the Legion of freakin' Doom), takes all the fun-for-fun's-sake of The Da Vinci Code and turns it into a tedious snowball of falderal careening out of control in every direction at once until all coming together in the most obvious climax imaginable. Ah, Opie, ya done it again.

The ridiculous, and quite energetic fun of the first film (Opie almost done good there) has been almost completely sapped away in this tragically funless follow-up and replaced with a series of zooms and pans and last second police chases through the tiny cobbled streets of Vatican City. True, the first film did have the obligatory action sequences but the overall film still had a strange fun-ness to it all - silly or not. Howard has sapped that fun, silly energy away as if he were a volatile vile of kidnapped anti-matter hiding with Earth-shattering trepidation somewhere in the dank catacombs of the Roman Catholic church. And that is not some bizarre non-sequitor, there really is a volatile vile of kidnapped anti-matter hiding with Earth-shattering trepidation somewhere in the dank catacombs of the Roman Catholic church (Didn't I claim this was more grounded in reality? Oh well.). Even Hanks, considerably less shaggy here, is left with not much to do other than stare quizzically at gothic statuary and collect a pretty hefty fucking paycheck when all is said and done.

Where Audrey Tautou was alluring and fiery, shuckling off her shackles of cutsie-pie pixieness she brimmed with a coy sexuality in Da Vinci as the non love interest female counterpart to Hanks' Langdon, Ayelet Zurer, her essential replacement here, though competent, is as dry and dull as the parchment page she steals from the Vatican archives. Where pompous antagonist McKellen was grandiose and theatrical (the drama queen that she is), Swiss Guard commandant Stellan Skarsgård, normally the best thing about any movie he is in, only makes us wish we were back in Dogville. Where petulant Paul Bettany was feverish and fervent as the snarling Albino guard dog, melancholy Dane Nikolaj Lie Kaas' kidnapper/assassin is lackluster and forgettable. Where Hanks' Da Vinci Langdon was eager and perpetually awed, Hanks' Angels Langdon is, well, he is anxious to cash that hefty fucking paycheck of his.

Only Ewen McGregor, as the super pious camerlengo with a penchant for the melodramatic, is able to incite any sort of positive cinematic emotion throughout the sadly plebeian two hours and eighteen minutes that we are trapped in the theatre. Multi-layered, where all the rest are mere caricatures, and the only character to grow/change/adapt, McGregor tries vainly to hold the crumbling church that is the metaphor for this film (or is that the other way around?) together. Now if only he had whipped out his light saber we might have had ourselves a movie.

Replacing the Templar-inspired and (some would say) blasphemous trappings of biblical lineage that was The Da Vinci Code with riffs on the Illuminati's retributive attacks on the Catholic Church (some would say Howard and Hanks' attack on the Catholic Church as well), Angels & Demons plays out as a series of riddles and wordplay no less ridiculous than if they had been bellowed out by Frank Gorshin from beyond the grave. Come to think of it, perhaps this is as silly as The Da Vinci Code was after all. Still not as much fun though. In sum, silliness aside, Angels & Demons goes far beyond such and ends up committing an even more unthinkable thriller faux pas than the ridiculous. It's just plain boring. [05/21/09]

  • read my original review of The Da Vinci Code from 2006