Angels & Demons

Movie Information

The Story: Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon has but hours to prevent Vatican City from being blown up by some stolen antimatter. The Lowdown: An utterly ridiculous story decked out in the ripest of melodrama that makes for a good time at the movies -- if you don't take it too seriously.
Score:

Genre: Thriller
Director: Ron Howard
Starring: Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer, Stellan Skarsgård, Armin Mueller-Stahl
Rated: PG-13

The reviews blasting Angels & Demons—Ron Howard’s second film based on a Dan Brown novel—for being preposterous and unbelievable are nearly as funny as the movie itself. I have a hard time believing that anyone associated with Angels & Demons was unaware that the material and the resulting movie could not possibly be taken seriously. If you approach the movie as slick, improbable nonsense, then you’re apt to have a good time watching it. If you approach it as anything else, you’d probably be wiser not to approach it at all.

As one of the few people who actually found The DaVinci Code (2006) enjoyable enough for what it was, I should probably note that I cut that film a little more slack for at least containing some thought-provoking ideas on the nature of religion. OK, so it copped-out on them—or at least softened them—so as not to frighten the horses, but they were at least in evidence. Angels & Demons may be a slightly better film—it moves faster and is more fun—but it’s short in the idea department. And by short, I mean it hasn’t any, even if it would like you to believe otherwise. This is your basic race-against-time conspiracy thriller tarted up by being set in the halls of the Vatican and given a veneer of theological import that’s about as deep as a puff piece in People magazine.

There’s less reverence for the source novel this time, which is a good thing, since there’s nothing there to be reverent about, which you’ll know if you’ve read it. The basics—including all the clichés and absurdities—of Dan Brown’s clunky novel have been retained, but a lot of the clunk has been stripped away. Characters have been remonkeyed to fit the actors—although excusing Ewan McGregor’s stage-Irish accent by having him be an orphan from Ulster falls apart when we learn he was raised in Rome. (Possibly he attended the Barry Fitzgerald Seminary for Oirish Movie Priests.) For the most part, however, the changes—especially the removal of interminable exposition—make the film more enjoyable than the book.

The story is essentially the same. It’s all about some antimatter that’s been improbably boosted from a research lab in Switzerland—supposedly by a theoretically long-defunct super-secret society called the Illuminati—with a view toward blowing up Vatican City and its covey of cardinals who are in a conclave electing a new pope. Moreover, four of the cardinals have gone missing and our Illumantic madman is out to off a cardinal on the hour every hour till the big blast of a finale. Enter Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) to save the day with his keen detecting sense, mental storehouse of academic esoterica and Little Orphan Annie decoder ring (OK, I made up that last one.) If this all sounds pretty silly, it’s only because you don’t know the finer details that will make this stuff come across as the last word in rational thought.

Ron Howard and company approach it all as the astonishing aggregation of balderdash it is, which is what makes it entertaining. Howard is, in fact, almost relentless in his quest for preposterous melodrama, loading the movie with dress extras whose only function is to look even more suspect and sinister than the main players—nearly all of whom get their moment of red herringdom. The biggest chuckle—apart from the ones provided by Brown’s book—for the movie-savvy viewer is the conclave of cardinals comprised of what appears to be every senior citizen in Italian Actors Equity and Rance Howard. It’s always nice to see Ron find a spot for his dad. (I guess he thought bringing in brother Clint would lower the tone too much.)

No, this is not a good movie, but it’s certainly a slickly made one, even if the acting is sometimes a little on the awkward side. (Face it: The very fact that the cast could keep straight faces is a feat of Olivierian proportions.) At the same time, as amusing melodrama, it’s enjoyable flapdoodle. During the summer movie season, you really can’t expect much more. Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, disturbing images and thematic material.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

17 thoughts on “Angels & Demons

  1. Ken Hanke

    “Enjoyable flapdoodle?” Well, it doesn’t get any more succinct than that!

    And “flapdoodle” is a much underused word.

  2. Dread P. Roberts

    And “flapdoodle” is a much underused word.

    I concur. The same could be said of lachrymose, which is a word that stuck out to me when reading your description for McG’s We Are Marshall in the last Weekly Reeler.

  3. Ken Hanke

    I concur. The same could be said of lachrymose, which is a word that stuck out to me when reading your description for McG’s We Are Marshall in the last Weekly Reeler.

    But one must be careful. I saw someone on Rotten Tomatoes blast a review as “worthless” because the reviewer used the word “lugubrious” and the reader didn’t know what it meant.

  4. Vince Lugo

    I enjoyed this film greatly. I am decidedly not a christian, but this film did what I never thought possible. It made me care for these people and made all their pagentry seem wonderous. If only they weren’t so bigoted, the world would be a more peaceful place indeed.

  5. Andrew Leal

    I confess that, for some reason, I once had a mental block where I tended to confuse miasma and diaspora.

  6. Andrew Leal

    Not so much since, fortunately, no occasions arose where I actually had to use either term in conversation. I avoided them in writing, but if they continued to approach inexorably (now *there’s* a word I like), that’s what dictionaries are for.

  7. Sean Williams

    I don’t know why the Vatican is worried about this film. The only person in the entire world who thinks the material represents historical truth is Dan Brown himself.

    Anyways, if people are dumb enough to believe that the Eucharist began with the Aztecs, do you really want them attending your church?

  8. Margaret

    Vince, did it ever occur to you that, perhaps, you are the one who’s bigoted? Against “these people” and their wondrous pageantry? It’s all a matter of perspective.

  9. Andrew Leal

    That one would be peculiarly embarassing, particularly should the mistake occur in a practical context. I shudder to even consider such a prospect.

    On topic, I have a soft spot for Rance Howard (including his bit in “Ed Wood”) but cardinal is definitely casting against type.

  10. Ken Hanke

    I don’t know why the Vatican is worried about this film.

    Well, once they saw the resulting film, they got unworried pretty fast.

  11. Ken Hanke

    That one would be peculiarly embarassing, particularly should the mistake occur in a practical context. I shudder to even consider such a prospect.

    An improper tone could be easily achieved.

    On topic, I have a soft spot for Rance Howard (including his bit in “Ed Wood”) but cardinal is definitely casting against type.

    It’s that Oklahoma twang popping up in a Eurocentric setting that’s startling, especially since the dress extras say little or nothing(beyond muttering whatever the Italian equivalent of “rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb” is).

  12. Vince Lugo

    Margaret, if you look at history, Christians used to justify slavery on biblical grounds. Then, when they couldn’t do that anymore, they justified racism and condemned interracial marriage on biblical grounds. Today, they justify homophobia on biblical grounds. Whether you want to admit it or not, they are bigoted and have been for a long time. If being opposed to bigots makes me a bigot myself, then I suppose I can live with that.

  13. Bob Voorhees

    In the recent movie form of “Beowulf” the dramatis personae were morphed into some odd amalgam of humanoid and cartoon character. In “Angels and Demons” the process is oddly similar. These “people” appear to be real humans but the whole thing is a cartoon.

  14. Polly Pretzel

    Sean Williams:
    Dan Brown does not think his ideas “represent historical truth.” Angels and Demons is fiction. FICTION. Dan Brown is an entertainer. He writes fast-paced thrillers for history buffs, perfect for reading while waiting at the airport.
    Nobody takes it seriously.

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