Movie Review: Angels and Demons

angels--demons

I read the novel Angels and Demons almost five years ago.  It was during a family vacation to Maine right after my undergrad orientation in Potsdam, NY.  I couldn’t put it down.  Author Dan Brown has this uncanny sense of pacing, despite being an extraordinarily lackluster writer.  His characters are generally weak, his plots are thin, the twists and turns generally unsatisfying, and his mechanics are insulting at best.  But I still devoured that blasted book like some hard drug-addicted junkie!  Brown’s books aren’t good.  They’re not revolutionary.  But geez does the man know how to build intensity and keep his readers, beyond all reason or sense, GLUED to his pages.

The film adaptations of Brown’s books suffer from an opposite affliction.  Expert filmmakers, effects teams, editors, an Academy-Award-winning writing team, Academy-Award-winning actors and an Academy-Award-winning director all lend their formidable talents to what should be tightly-paced and well-acted thrillers.  Somehow, beyond all reason or sense, they have FAILED TWICE.  The craftsmen are in place, the gems are ready for setting but somehow the films fail to capture the singular positive attribute of Brown’s novels – their EXCITEMENT.  The movies should be upgrades of the books yet they fall so depressingly short of their potential that I truly wonder why these adaptations turn out so flat-out boring.

Angels and Demons has a halfway decent plot that should have been executed with intensity and quick pacing that’s instead ponderous and laborious at the best of times.  We start out with the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, which is apparently experimenting with antimatter and some rather iffy particle physics (not exactly what it does in reality…http://lhc.web.cern.ch/lhc/).  One of the chief researchers is murdered and a canister of contained antimatter is stolen.  Flash forward to Super-Speedo Tom Hanks as not-so-swimmer’s-physique-boasting Harvard bore Robert Langdon.  I LOVE Tom Hanks.  But what is he thinking in this role?  Regardless of the highly disturbing swimwear, he’s summoned to the Vatican.  The Pope’s dead and the forerunners to succeed the Papal Hat Wearing Privilege have been kidnapped.  Also summoned is Italian physicist Vittoria Vettra, a dark-haired beauty who seems like she’d be an obvious love interest…but really isn’t.  Her father was the man murdered during the Large Hadron Collider incident, having been searching for what he dubbed the “god particle”.  Then we find out that the kidnappers are the ancient Illuminati, a secular secret society with an apparent vendetta against the Catholic Church.  Chaos ensues.  Ewan McGregor acts like a holy Obi-Wan Kenobi.  Stellan Skarsgard broods and paces menacingly.  Tom Hanks thinks.  And Hans Zimmer’s music blares epically as the characters speed around Rome in some seriously fantastic police cars.  The plot is more concise than in The Da Vinci Code, but not by much.  You can follow it, but you don’t really have much motivation to.  You don’t really have much motivation to do anything.

Casting’s pretty decent, except each actor seems to know how boring they’ll be made out to be.  Tom Hanks’ Robert Langdon gets to think and cower and think some more.  At least his hair’s a bit better this time around.  Sadly, I don’t think Hanks decided to have his character EVOLVE since the last movie…he’s more cardboard than I’ve ever seen him.  Ewan McGregor’s Camerlengo Patrick McKenna is so beautifully self-righteous and holier-than-thou with an added touch of true compassion that well…you realize Obi-Wan was the right way to go for the character.  He’s definitely the most interesting member of the cast.  Ayelet Zurer’s Vittoria Vettra is a perfect (alliteration-y) companion to Langdon.  She’s not all that spunky, doesn’t seem terribly emotionally invested in what she’s doing and certainly doesn’t match up to the lovely Audrey Tatou’s Sophie in The Da Vinci Code.  Stellan Skarsgard’s Commander Richter, head of the Swiss Guard, was bull-like and extraordinarily imposing.  He definitely commanded every scene he was in, but the character was written so dryly that this fine actor had little to sink his teeth into.  Pierfrancesco Favino was actually a lot of fun as Inspector Olivetti, but the role itself was terribly underwritten.  Nikolaj Lie Kaas was disturbingly believable as the assassin, however.  He portrayed a trained killer with a real single-minded intensity.  As far as supporting actors were concerned…none of them really popped out.  They were all just, well, there.

Effects, cinematography, and editing were all appropriate.  They didn’t stink, nor were they extraordinary.  Sadly, they were simply normal.  Like the adequate script and adequate acting, these aspects of the film were truly middle-ground mediocre.  Angels and Demons as a book was essentially written as if it were a movie.  There was excitement in the novel, and the technical aspects of the film’s creation should have added tension and intensity at every turn.  Unfortunately, they recycle pieces from any chase movie set in Rome.  It’s a gorgeous city.  We get that.  Catacombs are cramped.  We get it.  Italian police cars have tri-tone sirens.  We get it already!

Hans Zimmer’s score, on the other hand, was amongst the composer’s most singularly epic works since Gladiator.  His integration of a large choir amidst his signature thickly-textured and percussive compositions was entirely awe-inspiring.  It’s a gorgeous score, a beautifully composed work, but entirely inappropriate for the film itself.  Mass staccato brass and full choir sounds bombard the audience as our characters do such mundane activities as walk or think or eat.  It’s as if Zimmer read the script, imagined dragons, monsters and mass battles in the background, and composed his score based on that.  This is really the first time in years that I feel Zimmer’s evolved as a composer, but the sheer epic feel is an absolutely poor match for the boredom occurring on screen.  Snoring would have been a bit more appropriate.

Ron Howard has directed a plain ole’ boring movie.  The one element from the novel that should have been religiously incorporated (the pacing) was discarded entirely.  Instead, we’re left with a pretty, normally acted, normally shot, risk-free piece of cinema.  I survived because I attended with a couple of friends who were more than open to riffing throughout the film.  We had a blast making fun of it, but taken alone, well.  Angels and Demons is a simply average, run-of-the mill movie.  It’s not bad.  It’s just not good.  A total lost opportunity, Angels and Demons gets a 5/10 in my book…smack dab in the middle where it belongs.

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