Angels & Demons (2009)
Directed by: Ron Howard
Screenplay David Koepp, Akiva Goldsman, from the novel by
Starring: Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer, Stellan
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Run Time: 138 minutes
It took me a while to figure out what’s
wrong with Angels & Demons. At first blush, it
seems to be a very good summer action movie with considerable
intuitive appeal and exciting special effects.
Professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks, Charlie Wilson’s
War, 2007, The Da Vinci Code, 2006) the “world-renowned
Harvard symbologist,” is recruited by the Vatican after
the death of the Pope and the kidnapping of four cardinals.
The victims are branded with an ambigram* from the ancient
secret brotherhood of the Illuminati, long thought to be defunct.
Meanwhile, one of the most respected physicists at CERN (a
European organization for nuclear research) is murdered; the
brand of the Illuminati is found on his chest. CERN requests
Langdon’s assistance in uncovering the murderer.
The murdered man’s adopted daughter Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet
Zurer, Lightbulb, 2009, Vantage Point, 2008)
is called to the scene. The Illuminati have stolen from CERN
a canister containing antimatter—an extremely dangerous
substance comparable to a small nuclear weapon. Unless Landon
and Vetra can unearth the stolen canister within 24 hours,
it will explode.
So, they race breathlessly through Rome and Vatican City deciphering
clues from ancient history, architecture, and symbolism, one
step behind the villains. There are heaps of plot exposition,
story twists, gunfights, fires, speeding cars, scary music
and an underlying debate over the Catholic Church’s
war with science.
What’s wrong with this picture? The plain and simple
answer is that Langdon, instead of acting like an admirable
and brave hero, comes off as a stuffy, self-important egghead
with no sense of humor. He’s no Indiana Jones.
And Vetra, for her part, retains a grim and determined expression
throughout the film. There is never an intimation of an attraction
between the two, and I don’t blame them.
Because of this, it’s difficult to empathize or identify
with Langdon. There’s no chance for the audience to
anticipate his next move, since Langdon knows everything about
symbology and we know nothing. Instead, he gives a hurried
explanation of the symbology to Vittoria Vetra.
In short, we’re not brought into the mystery. We aren’t
given the tools to get involved in solving it; and thus the
excitement that we should experience watching this film is
On the other hand, Ewan McGregor (I Love You Phillip Morris,
2009, Miss Potter, 2006) gives a fine performance
as the Camerlengo, or chamberlain, who runs the Vatican between
the time of the Pope's death and the election of his successor.
Some ads for Angels & Demons tout it as a better
film than The Da Vinci Code. This isn’t exactly
high praise, since The Da Vinci Code was unexciting,
convoluted and just plain boring.
Ron Howard’s direction of Angels & Demons
seems to have been intended to build up the excitement and
tension that was missing from The Da Vinci Code.
Angels & Demons is definitely the superior film,
with quicker pacing, improved special effects and higher drama.
Perhaps the novels on which these films are based (FYI: Angels
& Demons was written before The Da Vinci Code)
cannot develop into great movies. In the novels, much more
information is given with which to understand the symbology
— and the subtleties of the plot, for that matter.
If you’re in the mood for a summer action flick, and
have already seen Star Trek, Angels & Demons
is a decent choice.
* an inversion; a typographical design or
art form that may be read as one or more words, not only in
its form as presented, but also from another viewpoint, direction
or orientation. The words readable in the other viewpoint,
direction or orientation may be the same or different from
the original words.
Emily S. Mendel
©Emily S. Mendel 2009 All Rights Reserved