a critiQal film review Angels & Demons (2009)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Hanks) discovers evidence of the resurgence of an ancient secret brotherhood known as the Illuminati - the most powerful underground organization in history. He also faces a deadly threat to the existence of the secret organization's most despised enemy: the Catholic Church. With the help of Italian scientist Vittoria Vetra (Zurer), Langdon embarks on a desperate hunt to find and follow the 400-year-old Path of Illumination that marks the Vatican's only hope for survival.

875 words (Est. Reading Time 4m 22s)
  • ...director Ron Howard turns this one into an action flick more fitted to Steven Seagal in his later career than Tom Hanks - and along the way, destroys yet another Dan Brown novel.

Having read Dan Brown’s novels of both The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, I must say I’m a bigger fan of Angels & Demons. With it’s exploration of Rome and The Path Of Illumination, and it’s much more gripping storyline, the book will hook you from page 1, and I couldn’t wait to see the big screen translation – despite how badly The Da Vinci Code (2006) turned out.

So, even though we had a few options for our 3rd week of our Summer At The Movies’ 09, we never really had any doubt as to which movie we were going to see. But, would Angels & Demons suffer just as badly in the hands of Tom Hanks and director Ron Howard as The Da Vinci Code (2006) did, or would this 2nd film be finally able to do the Dan Brown novel justice?

Tom Hanks reprises his role as Robert Langdon in Angels & Demons, and he still doesn’t quite grasp it. Now into the second film of this character, viewers would expect him to really be able to do the character justice. Instead, Hanks seems to plod through his role, uttering his lines with an excitement that never quite makes it to his eyes. Despite the events happening around him, he looks almost bored throughout the film, and really disconnects from the viewer.

Ewan McGregor, who has managed to take on a variety of roles, from Obi-Wan Kenobi to a drug addict (Trainspotting (1996)), usually can be counted on to bring vivid life to whatever character he steps into, and viewers will go into Angels & Demons expecting the same. While he does manage to bring more life to his character than co-star Hanks, he turns this rather powerful figure into something resembling a spoiled brat. Instead of showcasing an aura of calm and a feeling of a strong-willed believer – as the book depicts his character – he makes the character out to be a petulant spoiled boy in a man’s body, one who’s used to getting his way, and can’t quite manage to understand why that has changed.

The other characters aren’t given enough depth in the film, so the actors have a really hard time trying to get the audience to connect with them. Despite this, Pierfrancesco Favino, as Inspector Olivetti, manages to catch the viewer’s eye and draw them in a bit, despite not being given much in the way of screen time or character development.

Ron Howard continues to stink as a director. While he may count The Da Vinci Code (2006) as a success, the bad feeling everybody got from that film is starting to turn into resentment for him. While Tom Hanks can be partially blamed for the awful way that film turned out, Howard is much more at fault in Angels & Demons. From the get-go, it seems obvious to the viewer Howard has never even picked up the book, much less sat down and read it, so doesn’t really grasp even half of the potential of the novel.

Whether he’s trying to rush through Rome in a frenzy or turning simple fights in the novel into full-on Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)-style one-sided gun battles, he never really gets the viewer involved. Sure, the viewer may find themselves involved almost despite themselves thanks to the -albeit chopped and mutilated – storyline that manages to eke through, and find themselves looking forward to the next stop on the Path to Illumination, but that almost seems to be despite Howard’s directing, rather than because of it. Howard seems to be doing his best to turn this impressive novel into nothing but an action thriller that Steven Seagal would seem more at home in than Tom Hanks.

And then there’s the changes. While most novels-turned-films suffer a bit in the translation, Angels & Demons has got to be the worst adaptation – and thus, biggest disappointment – since The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising (2007). While the big failure of The Da Vinci Code (2006) was due to the film’s slow pacing, Angels & Demons biggest failure is due to the willy-nilly character changes. So much so, in fact, that if the viewer has read the book, they DO NOT know what happens at the end of the movie!

And why were some of these major changes done? No one knows. While one change manages to save them from introducing a character (one who figures largely into the novel) at all, the other biggest change doesn’t save them anything, since they swap out roles for the characters who are already on-screen. It doesn’t make sense, and really degrades from the already disappointing film.

Even without the major changes in character roles, Angels & Demons would have been a major disappointment, thanks to Howard’s desire to turn this into a Seagel-worthy action pic than to really take full advantage of what the novel has to offer. Maybe Howard over-compensated for the plodding dullness he brought to the screen in The Da Vinci Code (2006) – or maybe he’s just to wrapped up in his own self-ego to even care what viewers think, as long as he brings home the cash.

After these two films, I’m leaning more towards the latter- and Hanks seems to be in the same boat, although with his rather bored look, maybe he has a few more qualms about the shlock they are making together.

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