At The Picture Show
Drag me to hell
The scavenger hunt is on in 'Angels & Demons,' in all its monotonous tedium
Angels & Demons
Director: Ron Howard
Screenplay: Akiva Goldsman and David Koepp, based on the novel by Dan
Starring: Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer, Stellan Skarsgard, Nikolaj
Lie Kaas and Armin Mueller-Stahl
Rated PG-13 / 2 hours, 18 minutes
Opened May 15, 2009
(out of four)
Do you ever get the feeling that villains in movies don't actually have any desire to
succeed? Certainly they could avoid having their plans foiled if they'd stop giving
The baddies in Angels & Demons - or the demons, if you will - would have had
everything just right. Diabolical scheme all wrapped up. Except for how they
made sure they would get caught with those carefully chosen and transparent clues,
followed effortlessly by Professor Robert Langdon and his cohorts step by
This is the type of villain I don't understand.
I mean, serial killers are one thing - wanting to get caught is part of the pathology.
But those masterminding the Illuminati threat in this movie? They don't want to
get caught - they want to change the world. They want to make a statement. They
may want people (i.e. the police, the Swiss Guard, Professor Langdon) to take
notice beforehand, but surely not to the extent that they leave open any chance of
Yes, yes, I know - then we wouldn't have a movie, right? Well, exactly.
But we're stuck with it, aren't we? And in the movie we're stuck with, the forces
at work threatening the very foundation of the Catholic Church seem to have taken
all their cues from The Riddler. Drop tantalizing poems and symbols and puzzles
for Langdon (Tom Hanks) and watch as he wiggles his way through every
gimmick. I half-expected Frank Gorshin to show up at the end.
Punch in this code in 30 seconds or we're all going to die. Go six blocks across
town in the next four minutes or we're all going to die. Find the hidden clue in the
next five minutes or we're all going to die. And yes, even the old "when the clock
strikes midnight" ultimatum. All this, over and over again.
At the risk of sounding elementary, this
movie is stupid. Sometimes, there's just not a more fitting word. This is not even
movie logic; it's video-game logic. Angels & Demons is a video game. With this
and the equally tedious The Da Vinci Code, has cinema ever seen so many cheap
set-ups with predetermined resolutions?
For instance, about an hour into the movie, Langdon and a Vatican official get
trapped in an enclosed chamber that is being sucked of all its oxygen. You know
the drill - they have to break the glass or they're going to die.
Now, why does this scene take place? Is there any real threat of Langdon dying
less than halfway through the movie? No. Does the near-death experience signal
any immediate danger for Langdon? No. Does the scene somehow interact with or
contextualize the rest of the story? No. It's just an idiotically gratuitous sequence
that exists for its own sake - and it's dull, at that. So why is it in there? Well,
because they had to think of something to break up all the exposition.
But don't worry, there's still more than enough of that, too. Langdon gets
summoned by the Vatican because of a new threat by the Illuminati - once a group
of scientists and thinkers silenced and killed by the Catholic Church and now an
insidious operation with designs on exacting revenge.
The Church is in the midst of trying to elect
a new Pope, but the Illuminati have captured four Preferiti - the cardinals
considered most likely to get elected.
They have also stolen a canister containing antimatter, which - in this movie, at
least - will explode and destroy Vatican City if Langdon and Friends don't find it
in 24 hours. To this end, the Illuminati have craftily left clues that only serve to
ensure their schemes will fail.
Langdon is still not a compelling character, but Hanks seems more comfortable in
the role than he did the first time around. Unfortunately for him, he has to recite so
much expository dialogue that at times he literally has to stop and catch his breath.
But that's not even the half of it. As I grew increasingly agitated by the film, I got
to thinking, how is this so different from the Indiana Jones series? Same basic
idea, right? I mean, sure, the Indy films are breathlessly paced and have more
interesting characters, but I was put off by the very approach of Angels & Demons.
What I realized was that Spielberg's Indiana
Jones movies - at their best, at least - are about someone in search of something,
not merely chasing it. And to get there, the characters use reason, improvisation,
wit. Panache, even.
The clues Indy follows are organic to the world in which he exists, rather than - in
the case of Langdon - gimmicky challenges that would seem more at home on a
TV game show than anywhere else. That, or on page two of the paper, nestled
right between our trusty Sudoku and the daily word jumble.
Read more by Chris Bellamy