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Angels and Demons: A Dopey Popey Mess

The DaVinci Code was a hit book turned into a boring, joyless, and silly film. Now, here we are with a boring, joyless, and silly sequel, and while Ron Howard has taken big steps in making it (slightly) less boring, he has made up those steps in the direction of preposterousness. It’s a challenging art to make a dumb summer blockbuster, finding that perfect balance between earnestness and tongue-in-cheek– see Star Trek for one of the rare successes in this regard. However, if you don’t have some good one-liners, some killer action sequences, and a sense of fun, then you better be making a “smart” film. Howard’s film lacks all of those traits, and smarts on top of it. The crucial mistake made is that the film wants to be taken seriously– and while the narrative and plot twists themselves are silly, the deadpan tone takes the silliness into the stratosphere.

Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) just got done exposing that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’s lover, and that his partner in The DaVinci Code is his descendant. However, aside from a vague reference or two to the Vatican not being his biggest fan, none of this seems to have affected his life at all. The Vatican now needs his help: the Pope recently died, and a group calling themselves the Illuminati have kidnapped the 4 cardinals most likely to take the position from their chambers (no one protects these guys?). They will kill one cardinal per hour on the hour, and detonate a bomb made of anti-matter– don’t ask– at midnight, which would take out the Vatican and most of Rome to boot. Langdon, through a lot of exposition… constant, droning, neverending exposition… explains that statues will point the way to the churches where these men will be killed, and at the end of the path will lie the bomb. Thanks for the convenience, Illuminati!

I always have trouble in films and TV when our hero finds a pattern in five minutes that no one else has been able to figure out for centuries. Langdon is apparently the only person in the world who knows anything about the Illuminati– the only one who has ever studied them, and the only one who has ever been interested in them for four centures– because he must be called in from Harvard to save the Vatican. No one locally ever read his book, or any other books on the subject? Ewan MacGregor, as the previous pope’s #2 man, certainly lets this one-time arch-nemesis of the papacy into the Vatican Archives without much resistance– which makes even less sense once you start to watch the events unfold.

I WILL NOW GO INTO SPOILERS. SKIP THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH IF YOU WISH TO LEAVE THE OBVIOUS PLOT TWIST A MYSTERY TO YOU.

When you see an actor of Ewan MacGregor’s stature cast as what seems to be a character outside of the main action of the narrative, you can immediately assume he’s the villain. I knew this from the trailer. It becomes more obvious when he’s the only one getting in the way of the conclave trying to select the new pope. It becomes even more obvious when the “Illuminati kidnapper”– one man, by the way, so I’m quite impressed he stole four cardinals from their rooms with zero resistance– begans speaking in religious terms, praying for forgiveness of sins. It becomes painfully obvious when he becomes a hero two hours in (in one of the most laugh-out-loud dumb sequences in a film this year), and the conclave begins saying that Ewan MacGregor should be the new pope. The only problem with this painfully obvious resolution is that it makes zero sense. He seems to have ambitions to want to be the new pope… but he says he’s only interested in ensuring the success of the Catholic religion as is… but that contrasts with a speech he gave to the conclave saying the Catholic church must marry science and religion to survive… but that contrasts with why he killed the previous pope due to his weakening stance against scientific progress. He also gives Langdon permission to access the Vatican archives (twice!)… but he follows Illuminati mythology to the T, making him the only other person in the world except for Langdon who knows where all these events should occur… but he doesn’t tell his assassin to kill Langdon, and the assassin actually lets him escape alive (three times!) for no reason… but he tries to kill Langdon by taking the oxygen out of the archives while he’s inside. Poor MacGregor. I can’t think of a more poorly written villain, full of contradictory beliefs and behavior.

SPOILER DISCUSSION OVER. RESUME READING SPOILER-FREE HERE.

The bottom line is that this film was clearly adapted from material that never should have left the page. Hanks has no character to play, because he constantly is spouting from his vast reservoirs of exclusive knowledge, so there’s very little time for things such as human behavior or feeling. Other actors are given less than nothing to do (Armin Muehller-Stahl is the only one who comes close to transcending the material). Writers David Koepp (who certainly knows dumb, with his screenplays for Secret Window, War of the Worlds, and Indiana Jones 4) and Akiva Goldsman (the king of hack writers, responsible for vehicles like Batman and Robin, Lost in Space, I, Robot, and The DaVinci Code– how does this man have an Oscar?) should be proud that the silliness of the book was not lost in their faithful adaptation. Finally, there’s Ron Howard. After some of the most inspired and controlled direction of his career in Frost/Nixon, here his work feels stagnant at best and clunky and laughable at worst. In terms of films about scholars following archaeological clues, this falls far behind the National Treasure films– in enjoyability and, surprisingly, intelligence.

Note: there are a select few who should be proud of their work: those responsible for making the film look like it was shot in the Vatican. Not once did I ever think I was watching something filmed on a set. But maybe I was simply being distracted with trying to fill the gaping plotholes.


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~ by russellhainline on May 15, 2009.

3 Responses to “Angels and Demons: A Dopey Popey Mess”

  1. While I agree with many of your points, it’s clear that you have not read the books Russell!

    Firstly, this is a prequel, so he actually has not discovered the supposed bloodline of Christ, so the references to The Davinci Code should be rather small, namely the protagonists are the same. Angels & Demons was released in 2000, while DaVinci Code was not released till the following year. Yet Howard chose to call this a sequel simply because of the familiarity many people have with Langdon, and the fact that many people read A & D after seeing The DaVinci Code. A mistake? Maybe!

    Tom Hank’s character Robert Langdon, is simply an expert on Catholicism, and the lore that surrounds it. I’m sure the Pope and those high in the Vatican would be aware of the scholarly works of someone so well known, after his first book and multiple requests to view the archives.

    While I agree with many of your writing points. The exposition was long, very long, that’s simply the style of the book. A lot of information must be imparted to the reader, or viewer in the case of the movie for it to make sense.

    Many points don’t make sense, but again this is due to Brown’s writing and plot development and far less to the movie making. Why McGregor allows him into the archive is still a mystery to me.

    I must say that I did like the subtle jabs at the number of books an academic writer sells, and the tongue-and-cheek jokes which broke up some of the exposition.

    • I have not read the books, it is true. However, my brother saw it with me, and he agreed on nearly all of my points.

      Regarding prequel/sequel, the references are small but pointed. A Vatican rep says something along the lines of, “You’re not exactly friends of ours after our last… run-in.” Something like this.

      The only book of Langdon’s referenced in this film is “The Art of Illuminati.” It’s clear he’s familiar with Catholicism, but his expertise on the Illuminati and symbology seem to be the central points why he’s requested.

      The exposition is in the nature of the book, I’m sure… but that doesn’t make the material any more suitable for a film. The filmmakers have the burden of finding a way to make the material seem less expository, otherwise it will come across as… well, the way that it did manage to come across.

      There were more tongue-in-cheek jokes in this film than in DaVinci Code, since the number 3 or 4 is a greater number than 0. However, I still felt the overall tone was enormously earnestly deadpan and grave.

      Thank you for your feedback though! It’s nice to hear from someone else familiar with the source material.

  2. GOOD HATE, DOGG!!!

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