Angels & Demons

Angels & Demons

Film review by: Witney Seibold

 Angels & Demons


            I’m not going to address the controversy in Ron Howard’s “Angels & Demons.” I’m not to going to talk much about the film’s philosophies of Science vs. Religion. I’m not going to talk about how the Catholic Church has been trying to stay relevant in an increasingly secular world. I’m not going to talk about the strange rituals involved in electing Popes, and the Church’s strange hierarchy. I’m not even going to talk about the secret society of the Illuminati, the villains in this film.


            Why am I leaving out all of the “heavy” stuff in this review? Because “Angels & Demons” is a preposterous chase film. Howard – and his screenwriters Akiva Goldsman and David Koepp – are not interested in giving a serious analysis of the Catholic Church, its checkered history, or a dissection of the ages-old argument between Popes and Scientists. No, “Angels & Demons” is a hunt-‘n’-chase film to its very core, and can only be reviewed as such. It stands not with “The Last Temptation of Christ,” but more with “National Treasure.”


            I think this was the mistake many reviewers made when reviewing the prequel, “The Da Vinci Code” (2006). They assumed that Howard, and Dan Brown, the author of the original novels, were making anything more than a simple potboiler scavenger hunt film. Sure, it was smart of them to include bigger themes than most thrillers of this sort; by bringing Christ’s divinity into question, or by prodding at the established dogma of a millennia-old religion, the authors of these books and films managed to raise the stakes for the lead characters, and make the reader perhaps question some preconceptions. But Brown and Howard are not bold philosophers using the strength of their wills to dictate a new philosophy for the world. They are mere entertainers.


            So, as a treatise, “Angels & Demons” is pretty weak. Even as a thriller, it’s largely preposterous.


            But how does “Angels & Demons” work as an entertainment? Why, it’s perfectly fun. I’m actually a big fan of dumb scavenger hunt movies from “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” to “National Treasure: Book of Secrets.” “Angels & Demons” has plenty of puzzles, catacombs, secret passageways, and cleverly marked statues to keep one satisfied. It stars Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon, a professor of symbology (?), and Langdon is so smart and resourceful, that he rarely makes mistakes, and manages to follow hundreds-year-old clues without taking much of a breather. He’s like a brainier Indiana Jones, and fails about as often. I’m not sure any historical figures left “clues” behind to allow later generations to follow any sort of path to any sort of treasure, but films like this make me hope they did. Of course, if films like this are any guide, most historical figures and ancient civilizations did nothing but construct elaborate scavenger hunts and deadly booby traps.


            The film’s bad guys, The Illuminati, have arranged for a bomb to go off under the Vatican. The bomb is actually a stolen canister of antimatter. Yeah, the same stuff that powers the Enterprise. There’s not digital red countdown clock on the canister, but there is a dwindling battery life, so we get a clock anyway. The bomb is supposedly revenge against the Church for the persecution of some scientists some 400 years before. The bad guys have also kidnapped the four frontrunners for the new papacy, and will kill one of them an hour before the bomb goes off. Yes, the film takes place in the span of about five hours.


            In addition to Langdon, there’s the newly dead Pope’s carmalengo, Fr. Patrick McKenna (Ewan McGregor), who holds limited papal powers until the new Pope is elected. There’s a shady cardinal (Armin Mueller-Stahl) who seems to be manipulating certain players. There’s the head of the Vatican police force (Stellan Skargård) who is hellbent on not letting Langdon get what he wants. And there’s the fierce lady scientist (Ayelet Zurer from “Munich”) whose antimatter was stolen, and who serves mostly as a character that Langdon can explain everything to.

 Cardinal and Priest

            Upon reflection, the film makes less sense than you think. The bad guy’s ultimate plot relies on split second timing, and requires wild coincidences to work. However, these inconsistencies don’t really cross the mind until the film has ended. While is unspools, “Angels & Demons” is perfectly entertaining, fun, just complex enough, and exciting. It’s not really concerned about the future of the Catholic Church, it just wants to make sure Langdon gets out of the Vatican vaults before the air runs out! Will he make it on time? It’s exactly what a summer film ought to be. It’s nice to see that Howard has managed to pick up the pace, and can better handle pacing and action after the dismal “The Da Vinci Code.”

Published in: on May 27, 2009 at 10:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

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