ANGELS & DEMONS is a film that we originally thought was meant to be a mystery tale, a who-done-it. However, the picture involves a science fiction aspect in the form of ‘antimatter’ experiments, thus opening the door to that which is Cinefantastique. So, we decided that we should give it a look-see. And having done so, we’d like you to consider it a public service, because just maybe we can help save you eight to thirteen bucks or so.
I think most of us can concede that the existence God can neither be completely proven nor disproven by the likes of man (even though people on both sides of the argument like to claim otherwise), hence the reason that we can only ultimately come to the conclusion of His existence through faith. But I’m here to tell you that accepting the plot of ANGELS & DEMONS takes at least as big a leap in faith.
ANGELS & DEMONS , like its predecessor, THE DA VINCI CODE, is a ludicrous story full of cheap gimmickry, manipulation, pontification, melodrama, and just plain nonsense. The simple outline puts it like this: The Catholic Church involves itself in experiments concerning the capture of antimatter particles because it believes that antimatter may be the link to the “God particle,” thereby bringing us closer to understanding something about the Creator. The scientists involved are more interested in learning more about our temporal universe, possibly revolutionizing energy needs and travel, etc. Nonetheless, a research marriage is born, and our team does manage to capture a small amount of the highly dangerous material.
Now, of course, you can’t have a discovery like this without someone wanting to steal it for some vile purpose. So, our storytellers interject a vengeful member of the Illuminati, which the Catholic Church drove underground generations ago via its philosophic—and literal—attacks. He breaks into a high security area of the research center with the retina of a kindly donor, if you please, and carries out part one of his nefarious plan. (Now, I have to admit that this part confused me because the, uh, donor appeared to have already been deep inside the high security area when the Illuminati affiliate used his body part to get in. It seemed rather like using a key to get in a safe when the key was already locked in the safe.)
Meanwhile, back at the Vatican the Pope has just died. This leads us to part two of the overall plan – kidnap the four cardinals who are most likely to be named Pope in the wake of the last Pope’s passing, demand millions, kill them one at a time via the four alters of the Path of Illumination—earth, wind, fire and water—and threaten to blow the Vatican to kingdom come (along with a big chunk of Rome) in a “burst of light” if all demands are not met. But between you and me, all is not just about demands and money.
Everything is being done according to symbolism too, so there is little to do other than to bring in the great Harvard religious expert & symbologist, Dr. Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) and Dr. Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer), who was heavily involved in the experiments, to help solve this deadly mystery. What follows is an extremely forced and irritating engagement in puzzle solving. None of the tension is genuine; it’s shoved at you and you can feel it. And then there’s Hans Zimmer’s brow-beating score that seemed to scream, “You’re gonna swallow all this fast-paced mystery and tension, and you’re gonna like it!”
I’ve been a Hanks fan since SPLASH, but I didn’t take to him in THE DA VINCI CODE (because that film too was bad), and just like Zimmer, he actually frustrated the bejesus out of me in ANGELS & DEMONS. He went through the entire picture lecturing in an arrogant, pontificating manner, force-feeding the viewer information on everything from why Vatican statues were missing their procreative parts to why December 25 was chosen as the date to remember the birth of Christ. Listening to his stuffy character explain the reason for this and the origin of that while also explaining various symbols and clues over and over throughout the entire film felt very leading and snobbish. There was no real sense of exploration or interesting detective work in DEMONS; everything was laid out in a conscripted, connect-the-dots fashion which drained all the life out of the movie.
There are also other moments that should get under anyone’s skin, such as Tom Hanks’ smug lecture on being “against vandalism” (referring to what a past Pope had done to those Vatican owned, and therefore non-vandalized, statues in the name of modesty). Then, in a despicable (and what I would call falsely motivated) moment after having been granted very-difficult-to-obtain access to the Vatican’s priceless—and seriously temperature controlled—library vault, Hank’s partner in crime (Zurer) defaces what is supposed to be an incredibly important journal written by none other than Galileo. Its main purpose was for humor and gets referred to a couple of times later on. But it’s cheap, flat and even insulting. Adding further insult is the fact that there is never any consequence to this selfish, destructive act, and Hanks is even granted access to the vault a second time.
We also have someone who is supposed to be staunchly Catholic taking the Lord’s name in vain in what I presume was supposed to be a mildly amusing gag; I simply found it eye-rolling and, again, false in its sentiment. These types of things occur several times throughout ANGELS & DEMONS, and they kept throwing me out of my concentration on the story.
Then there are little issues like the fact that what is being perpetrated is so unsettling to one perpetrator that he’s willing to consider burning himself alive rather than be caught, but clues are being left behind at every step in their symbolic actions and everyone who gets in the way is being killed except the one man who can figure everything out and endanger their plans to bring down their arch enemy, the Catholic Church. In fact, our killer even tells Langdon and Vetra, “I’m not going to kill you because I was not told to. But if you follow me, it is another matter.” This, after they’ve been dogging his efforts throughout the entire film. Knuckle-headed reasoning and plot devices like this are thrown in periodically as excuses for those viewers who might ask some logical questions.
I do wish to point out a positive point or two: Ewan McGregor did give an affective performance as the Vatican’s too-good-to-be-true Camerlengo (whose control in this film extends beyond true boundaries), and I was impressed by Pierfrancesco Favino (inspector Olivetti), but most everyone else seemed to be in on the audience-misleading that was supposed to be taking place. Their performances were not bad in the traditional sense, but they were toying.
I’d have to say, however, that this would be in keeping with the mentality of the rest of ANGELS & DEMONS. Dan Brown is fond of unnaturally setting up straw dogs and generating silly, unnatural twists and turns. If you thought Christopher Reeve’s priest in MONSIGNOR was over the top with his killing actions in war, love making and involvement with the black market, wait ‘till you get a load of some of the storytelling in this film. It generated as many questions in logic is it answered in its own desired fashion. And Father Patrick McKenna is something else. He’s even a skilled helicopter pilot from wartime and saves everyone from that antimatter device I mentioned earlier. And that’s just scratching the surface.
I admit that I had a few quibbles with STAR TREK, but after seeing several of the big summer offerings thus far, I have to tell you that at this point it’s the most genuinely energetic, action-packed and properly humorous film this season. None of these qualities were embedded within ANGELS & DEMONS. So if you want to see a film dealing with subjects like antimatter, I say beam aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise. And if you want to see a much more interesting film involving religion rent DOUBT.
By the way, did you know that the great Baroque sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini was probably a secret Illuminati member whose real purpose in generating all the art he did for the Catholic Church was done in the name of infiltration? Neither did I. Sheesh!
ANGELS & DEMONS (Imagine Entertainment/Columbia Pictures, 2009; 138 min.) Directed by Ron Howard. Screenplay by David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman. Based on the novel by Dan Brown. Produced by John Calley, Brian Grazer and Ron Howard. Executive produced by Dan Brown, Todd Hallowell and Marco Valerio Pugini (Italy). Cinematography by Salvatore Totino. Production Design by Allan Cameron. Costumes by Daniel Orlandi. Special Effects Supervision by Daniel Acon (Italy), Clay Pinney, Dominic Tuohy. Visual Effects Supervision by Angus Bickerton, Mark Breakspear, Ryan Cook, Richard Higham, and Richard Stammers. Music by Hans Zimmer. Edited By Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill. Cast: Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer, Stellan Skarsgard, Pierfrancesco Favino, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Thure Lindhardt, David Pasquesi, Cosimo Fusco, Victor Alfieri, Franklin Amobi, Curt Lowens, Bob Yerkes, Marco Fiorini, Carmen Argenziano, Howard Mungo, Rance Howard, Steve Franken, Gino Conforti, Elya Baskin, Richard Rosetti, Silvano Marchetto, and Thomas Morris. MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of violence, disturbing images and thematic material.