There is both good and bad news associated with Ron Howard’s big screen adaptation of Dan Brown’s novel Angels and Demons, the literary prequel – but cinematic sequel – to The Da Vinci Code. The good news is that this film is six minutes shorter than the 2006 blockbuster. The bad news is that like its predecessor, Angels is a ludicrous, non-stop expository bore that is about as involving and suspenseful as a catechism class.
Angels is set against the backdrop of the election of a new Pope. While the world is focusing their eyes on Vatican City awaiting the election of the new Holy Father, evil things are afoot behind the scenes. Four priests have been abducted and are scheduled to be executed at the top of each hour starting at seven pm that evening. As if this isn’t enough bad news, the kidnappers reveal that they are in possession of an anti-matter time bomb that will be detonated at midnight, taking most of Vatican City along with it.
When a mysterious discovery is made by the local police, they decide to turn to one man who might be able to help them: Harvard University symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks, this time with a better haircut). Upon arriving in Rome, Langdon uncovers evidence that might point to the resurgence of the ancient underground society, the Illuminati, an enemy of the Catholic Church. Langdon joins forces with Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer), an Italian scientist who was working on the anti-matter project when it was stolen and the two embark on a hunt through Rome’s sealed crypts, catacombs, cathedrals, and secretive vaults, following the Path of Illumination in an effort to find the kidnapped priests and the bomb.
I found The Da Vinci Code novel to be a passable but utterly forgettable beach read. The 2006 movie it spawned turned out to be simply forgettable thanks to a terrible script by Akiva Goldsman, filled with an overabundance of exposition and boring characters and brought to life by stillborn performances and awkward, utterly lifeless direction from Howard. The Da Vinci Code was such a chore to sit through that it became my pick for the worst film of 2006. It also made it difficult to acknowledge that Angels and Demons was the better story of the two. Code had left such a bitter aftertaste in my mouth that I refused to read the novel for Angels.
After seeing the movie, I’m glad that I went with that instinct. To its credit, Angels “ticking clock” scenario makes this film move quicker than the glacially-paced Code. But for all the running, jumping and killing occurring in this rather sadistic PG-13 opus, the cinematic adventures of Robert Langdon continue to lull me to sleep. Even with Spider-Man scribe David Koepp lending a hand in the rewrite department, Goldsman gives us another script filled with the same type of eye-glazing exposition, red herrings (or were those Cardinals?), pretentious musings on the “Science Vs. Faith” debate (including a completely out-of-place statement on stem cell research), dull characters and lapses in storytelling logic so prominently displayed in the last film. Rumor has it that Sony may have dished out close to $9 million for this dynamic duo’s adaptation. Imagine how much the studio would have to pay to get them to write a decent script.
Ron Howard is, for the most part, a reliable commercial filmmaker. Apollo 13, Parenthood and Cocoon are but a few of the films which prove that with the right material, he can tell a story well and get great performances out of his cast. Not so here. While I doubt anyone could do anything worthwhile with the script, short of burning it, the veteran director’s work on this film is anything but heavenly or competent. Howard’s directing doesn’t have the slightest bit of urgency, drama or suspense. Langdon’s code breaking is as exciting as writing out a grocery list; the interaction between actors is stiff and void of any emotion while the shootouts and chases are handled so awkwardly you have to wonder if Howard has ever seen an action film of any sort in his life.
To me, Professor Robert Langdon is without a doubt one of the single most boring characters ever to grace the silver screen. This might explain why Hanks’ performance is so comatose. His portrayal of this one-dimensional dork is so wooden that you could use it as a coffee table. The beautiful Zurer (Munich) has zero chemistry with Hanks and is reduced to being window dressing. Ewan McGregor (as Camerlengo McKenna), Stellan Skarsgard (Police Commander Richter) and Armin-Mueller Stahl (as Cardinal Strauss) all give it their best shot, which in the end adds up to very little.
A few weeks before the release of Angels and Demons, it was announced that Dan Brown has penned a new Robert Langdon novel followed immediately by Sony stating that this new novel will also be made into a motion picture. This should occur in roughly a few years which should give us enough time to pray for a decent movie, a.k.a. a miracle.
– Shawn Fitzgerald