May 2009 14

angels_and_demons_posterSo, let me state this clearly before I start the main portion of my review since so many people think these things tend to matter. I DO NOT care about the controversies surrounding the movie or the movie that came before it. They are works of fiction that are meant to be viewed as such. Taking in account weird historical facts and conspiracies to drive a storyline is a good idea. What I care about is how it is executed.

Well, how is it executed? Not well in my opinion. Don’t get me wrong the performances are solid and the look of the film is the best money can buy, but overall the story fell flat for me. Angels & Demons once again follows Tom Hanks as Professor Robert Langdon, symbologist extraordinaire as he uncovers a plot set in motion long ago. This time the Pope has just died and the four Preferiti, the most likely to become the new Pope, are kidnapped and will be executed on the hour every hour. Claiming responsibility is the mysterious Illuminati. In addition to the Preferiti being held hostage a container stolen from the Large Hadron Collider at CERN has been stolen, containing a gram of antimatter. This antimatter if not held in stasis will cause an explosion equal to that of a small nuclear bomb. It is up to Professor Langdon to use a series of clues pertaining to the Illuminati and their “Path of Illumination” to find the Cardinals held hostage and the container of antimatter.

The main problem with the story isn’t that it isn’t interesting, in fact on paper it is very interesting. It is the fact that every twist and turn is somewhat predictable. A film like this lives or dies based on whether or not it is able to keep it’s mystery. If you can see the twist and turns coming you feel like the action is a bit contrived and tiresome. I found myself many times during the film wishing the characters would move on to the next scene so we could see the next potential plot twist.

The film itself is shot well. Ron Howard seems to have a better grasp on action sequences better than he did with the first entry to the series. The lighting was great and special effects were actually pretty darn good. I never once thought I was looking at a bad looking film, other than maybe Tom Hank’s Nic Cage hair (seriously, it’s time to keep it cropped and cut short Tom). Ron Howard knows how to use the camera, but the story just wasn’t up to the quality of the budget apparently.

Acting was a mixed bag as well. There were no stand out performances. I seem to be disappointed by Tom Hanks lately. He seemed once upon a time a man who knew how to pick nothing but good scripts, but lately he seems to be phoning in some of his acting. It’s not that he was horrible, he just wasn’t convincing enough to make me believe that he knew all these obscure symoblogy items. Stellan Skarsgård also seems to be playing a bit to his paycheck rather than the camera. He seemed very one dimensional and at no point did I see anything other than a setup as one of the film’s many potential villains. Ewan McGregor is continually disappointing me after I believed him to be a major rising star only five or six years ago. His character seemed to be calm and intelligent, but lacked the ferociousness that it seemed to need. The only standout performance in the film is from Armin Mueller-Stahl who turns in the most honest performance of the film. He brings many different levels to his character that always make you wonder what his motives are. While the film showed that Hollywood can make just about anything look good, they can’t always make the story good.

I give Angels & Demons a D

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Another take on “Angels & Demons” by Kevin:

Harvard Symbologist Professor Robert Langdon is back, played again by Tom Hanks in the latest film from Ton Howard. This time he faces a greater evil, which has been at “war” with the church for centuries. This evil comes in the form of a group called “The Illuminati,” who seeks revenge against the church as a whole for the way their members were exiled and killed because of their disagreement with church teachings long ago, in days of philosophers like Galileo. Problems come at a horrible time for the Vatican, as the Pope has just passed away.There are millions of people in morning over the Pope’s death, which means that Cardinals from around the world are all gathering in Rome. Their goal is to elect a new Pope – but there is a big problem. The four Cardinals that are the favorites to be elected as the new Pope have been kidnapped – and all signs point to the Illuminati. The ancient Illuminati threat and symbol were sent to the Swiss Guard on the morning of the kidnappings, and there is no one who can put the puzzle together — in Rome that is.

Enter Robert Langdon, taking an intense swim around the pool of Harvard, not aware of the evils taking place half way around the world during this time of mourning. The audience is surely enthusiastic that when Professor Langdon emerges from the pool during his first moment of screen time, and we see that he has a different hair style from the first film. After our excitement dies down, we realize that there are big problems at the Vatican, and Langdon is the only one who is able to decipher the clues that the villains are leaving behind. After we jet set to Rome, the movie is a fast paced race against the clock to save the lives of the four kidnapped Cardinals and bring the kidnapper to justice. What you have to understand is that the main characters are under a very strict deadline throughout the entire film. The majority of the entire movie is supposed to take place during an evening, spanning 4 hours. There is not a lot of room for error or mistakes by Langdon and the Vatican Police force who is assisting him, so they have to be spot on for the movie to work. And we also have to keep in mind that the movie is the adaptation of a novel. So the events that may seem unbelievable at times were not imagined by the director or screenwriters. I have not read “Angels & Demons,” but they did a pretty close job from what I have heard. With that being said, the movie takes us from one location to another, as we chase the bad guys and try to save the Cardinals.

Tom Hanks does a good job as always as professor Langdon. He is a likeable character that provides an equal amount of charm and humor (mostly found by his cynicism). Hanks is joined on-screen for most of the film by Ayelet Zurer, who plays Vittoria Vettra. Vittoria is scientist who works at CERN researching the creation and containment of “antimatter.” The antimatter research proves to be another complication in this mystery, when one of the containers is stolen and hidden in Vatican City during the event. Ewan McGregor plays Father Patrick McKenna, the camerlengo who is the right-hand man to the Pope. Father McKenna is given the power of the church until the new Pope is chosen. The other main role in the film is the head of the Swiss Guard, portrayed by Stellan Skarsgard. His performance is excellent as the cold-hearted commander who likes to keep his interactions with those who are a part of the church and strictly follow its teachings.

I found the film to be entertaining if nothing else, and I think that the acting and film making were good enough to pull it off. The movie is full of twists and turns, and the intention is to keep the audience guessing until the very end. Some will predict the villain in the beginning, and some will be completely surprised. I think that the movie has enough action to make it enjoyable, and not too boring. Although it seems to drag at parts, it had more action than the first film, and I think that overall it was more enjoyable. If you liked the first movie, and you like the books – you will most likely enjoy the film. All that I would recommend is that you go into the movie with an open mind, and expect to watch something that will be entertaining for a couple of hours. It definitely isn’t perfect, but I feel that Howard and the writers squeezed the complex story and characters into a small time frame and were able to make a fun film.

I give Angels & Demons 6.5 / 10

How Bout One More Look from Zac:

Ron Howard and Tom Hanks team up for a second tale in the world of Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon. The result is a film that exceeds that of the Da Vinci Code, and is a solid picture on its own right in the end.

The CERN particle acceleration clinic is in the business of colliding atoms, in hope of discovering the scientific answers to the creation of the universe. But they have a side project that is interested in the collection of a highly volatile substance – called anti-matter. Incapable of coming into contact with another any piece of matter, the substance can cause (in the universe of the film) substantial devastation from the said “incident of contact.” When one of these canisters of harvested anti-matter is stolen and the lead scientist is murdered, the project’s second in command, Vittoria Vettra, is called to Vatican City along with Robert Langdon. Together they help investigate a plot against the Vatican during the Conclave, where Cardinals are selecting the new Pope after the recent death of the previous. The four Preferiti cardinals have been kidnapped, and the vile of antimatter is somewhere hidden in the Vatican. Along with the threat of the Preferiti to be murdered on the hour leading up to the destruction of Vatican City by the anti-matter at midnight, there is little time to spare. Langdon and Vittoria meet with the Swiss Guard’s head of security and the Camerlengo, who is a priest and acting authority of the papal office during the time of the popes death until the next is anointed. He reluctantly grants access to the Vatican archives so that Langdon can find answers to clues they have gathered. They must attempt to stop the Preferiti murders before they happen, by following the path the kidnapper has laid out in front of them. Langdon’s use of symbology skills gets the info to start down the path, and with that, the story is off to the races.

The film itself starts off a bit on the slow side, full of exposition and plot propping as the film spends time setting up the eventual chase and hunt for the Preferiti. One might worry that the film may be taking some of the same mis-steps that the first one did. Thankfully the film keeps things rolling and rarely slows down once they are on the trail of the illuminati, and heads off on a sprint to the finish once they begin the search for the place where the “fire” brand will be used. The film’s pacing makes the runtime (a bit over two hours) mostly fly by, and doesn’t drag like it’s predecessor; the plot doesn’t really allow for dragging in the first place.

The production values on the film are always fairly top notch, with a special nod to the CGI and matte artists on the film for making a lot of the destinations these characters visit come to life – as the filmmakers were not allowed to film in a number of the book’s locations due to reservations from the church. While a keen eye can catch most of the blue screen work, it still looked pretty good almost every time. Also, props to the filmmakers for not making the solving of the puzzles and clues so damn easy this time around. My biggest complaint with the first film, beside pacing, was the seemingly ease at which many of the story’s puzzles were solved in a second by Langdon. This film felt more natural as they worked through each clue on their way to the next spot on their path. The message of the film and the battle of faith vs. reason are also there, but not shoved down our throats, especially once things get rolling. The faith vs. reason battle is well on display during the first few scenes, and is definitely an ultimate plot point. But in the end, I think that Howard and crew did a good job of not overbearing one party with too much favor.

The changes to the film from the book are all pretty much acceptable as well. They eliminate most of the fantastical aspects of the book, trim down some characters’ relevancy, and truncated some story lines. Instead focusing on the reason plot lines (Langdon) and the faith plot lines (Camerlengo), the film’s focus is tight and the story constantly is moving forward with pretty much zero meandering. The film does end up making a couple of minor leaps for the audience when buying into some of the assumptions the characters make, but these are few and far between.

The actors in the film are also fine as well, with no one really doing a stand out turn that is to be marveled at. Hank’s Langdon is just as sound as his previous turn and brings a bit of needed humor and intelligence to that character. Hanks is a nice hero that is easy to root for and fun to follow, which is exactly what the book calls for. Ayelet Zurer plays Vittoria and she does fine enough in her limited work. I am glad they decided not to play up any of the implied romantic sub-plot that the film could have gotten into. Ultimately though, Zurer is left with not a lot to do and the character is rather forgettable and almost pointless in the end. The real co-star of the film is Ewan McGregor as Camerlengo, and he probably does the best work of anyone in the film. McGregor is always fantastic and it is nice to see him in some main stream work again. He carries himself so confidentially yet is humbled by the loss of his “father” and his desire to do good by the church. Stellan Skarsgard plays the grumpy and unconvinced commander of the Swiss Guard – and while he plays the part right, he like Zurer doesn’t have a whole lot to do. With that said he does good work, but you are left feeling his talents were a bit wasted. One last mention for Nikolaj Lie Kaas, who is cool and calculated as the Illuminati assassin. He does a fine job at creating a threatening and immediate enemy on the hunt to save the Preferiti.

In the end, Angels and Demons is a fun and fast paced adventure/thriller. The plot twists and turns while engaging you with the premise of faith vs. reason. The actors are all good around even though a couple seem wasted in the end. McGregor gets to shine in a major picture again, while Hanks continues to turn in another solid role to add to the resume. While there isn’t a whole lot to complain about in the picture, there is similarly nothing to really poor praise upon either. The film will entertain and bring nothing to the table that you haven’t really seen before – especially if you have read the novel. But that shouldn’t keep people from seeing the film, as there is plenty of fun to be had and you will find little to complain about when it is all said and done. In fact, if you haven’t read the book, you will probably find even more enjoyment out of the picture – as there will be a higher sense of mystery and suspense to everything.



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