movie film review | chris tookey

Angels & Demons

© Columbia Pictures - all rights reserved
  Angels & Demons Review
Tookey's Rating
1 /10
Average Rating
3.50 /10
Robert Langdon - Tom Hanks , Camerlengo - Ewan McGregor
Full Cast >

Directed by: Ron Howard
Written by: David Koepp, Akiva Goldsman based on the novel by Dan Brown

Released: 2009
Origin: US
Colour: C
Length: 138

Stuff & nonsense.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

Bookmark and Share

Dan Brown’s blockbuster novel famously outraged the Catholic Church. The movie version is likely to outrage anyone who has purchased a ticket. Sitting through Angels & Demons is like suffering Hell & Purgatory.

The good news is that it is not as agonisingly slow as The Da Vinci Code, and nine minutes shorter. Everyone gabbles the barmy, characterless and woefully inaccurate exposition – this replaces the phenomenon usually known as dialogue, and resembles no speech-patterns ever used by man - so it’s slightly less tedious than its predecessor. By the end of it, you’ll have wasted nine minutes less of your life. But you’ll still have endured well over two hours of humourless, po-faced, incomprehensible garbage.

Learning from at least some of their mistakes on the first movie, director Ron Howard and writers David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman have done their best to salvage Dan Brown’s abysmally written book, which he spawned before The Da Vinci Code and resembles its older, near-identical but tragically retarded twin.

Howard and co have mercy-killed some of the novel’s most hilarious absurdities, including the hero Robert Langdon’s leap from an exploding helicopter at 15,000 feet, using only a tarpaulin as parachute, followed by his miraculous emergence from the River Tiber with no injuries at all.

This is an improvement, in the same way that swine flu outside Mexico is an improvement on swine flu inside Mexico.

The bad news is that so many preposterous elements survive, including the principal villain’s goofy plot to take over the Vatican, that any intelligent viewer will leave the cinema slack-jawed with disbelief that we have been invited to take this hokum seriously.

Though Langdon is supposed to be a respected Harvard academic, he talks a lot of ill-informed tosh about the Illuminati, whom he portrays – wrongly – as having been persecuted and killed by the Catholic Church. The real Illuminati were founded by a law professor in Bavaria, and survived about 11 years, from 1776 until 1787. Langdon assures us that both the astronomer Galileo and the sculptor Bernini were Illuminati – which would have been difficult, since Bernini died in 1680, and Galileo in 1642.I

Hardly any of the story makes sense. I am still trying to work out why the bad guys bother to construct an elaborate treasure hunt based on the sculptures of Bernini, if they don’t want someone to work out the solution. And wouldn’t a Harvard art professor who knows Rome be able to solve the clues long before this one does?

Why do the villains attempt to drown a cardinal in the fountain at the Piazza Navona, when this could hardly fail to attract the attention of tourists sitting at the outdoor cafes around it?

Why don’t Mr Brown or his villain-in-chief, a Vatican insider, realise that only cardinals are eligible for the papacy? Why are they unaware that election of a pope by acclamation was abolished in 1996? Such elementary errors render the entire film ludicrous.

The least bad element is the ingenuity with which director Howard has compensated for not being allowed access to the Vatican or any church in Rome. The Sistine Chapel is recreated with impressive accuracy, and the scenes in St Peter’s Square would look realistic, if the actors there weren’t being made to do such ridiculous things.

Tom Hanks’ haircut (pictured) has improved since the first movie, but God only knows why he wished to extend the agony of his dreadful initial performance. The wise decision to leave out Brown’s sleazy sexual sub-plot between his hero and a pretty physicist (ineffectively played by Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer) has the undesirable side-effect of leaving Langdon with no personality whatsoever. His fear of enclosed spaces – so laboriously set up in The Da Vinci Code – seems abruptly to have vanished, which is lucky for him but baffling for the rest of us. His one character quirk is his Mickey Mouse watch, which he glances at from time to time, though far less frequently than I looked at mine.

As the second most important character in the movie, Camerlengo Patrick McKenna, the late Pope’s confidante and adopted son, the pitifully lightweight Ewan McGregor affects an Oirish accent, which is more of an attempt to act than he’s made in any of his last twenty movies. Unsurprisingly, he fails to make sense of a character whose actions and speeches throughout are papal bull.

Stellan Skarsgard, still it seems in a state of shock after being propositioned by Julie Walters in Mamma Mia, has the thankless task of playing a traditional role in this kind of yarn, the Idiot Police Chief. He’s head of the Swiss Guard, responsible for the security of the Vatican during the conclave electing the new Pope. His problem is that the four leading candidates for the papacy have been kidnapped, he’s received information that an explosion of anti-matter will soon destroy both the Vatican and Rome for miles around – oh, and the missing cardinals are turning up gruesomely murdered, at hourly intervals.

You might think that any law-enforcement professional would act quickly to evacuate the Vatican and alert the population of the potentially not-so-Eternal City. But no, he locks the surviving cardinals in the Sistine Chapel and keeps quiet. His one idea is to trust in an academic and a physicist, neither of whom he has met before, and in whom he transparently doesn’t have the slightest faith. He also decides to steal potentially vital evidence and hide it away, for no reason that makes sense unless he’s trying to make us think he’s the villain.

Unlikely? Yes. Ridiculous? Yes. But he is not the silliest character in this film, by a long way.

Well before half an hour has limped by, you should be able to guess the identity of the villain, since he’s the one person who doesn’t have a motive. You won’t be able to guess his rationale, still less why he imagines his bonkers plan will succeed. But Dan Brown can’t make sense of that either. He just chooses the unlikeliest person.

Brown really is one of the dumbest authors ever. In terms of style, characterization and plotting, he makes the routinely and rightly reviled Jeffrey Archer look like Dickens. This is a terrible movie with barely concealed contempt for its audience. Please don’t go to see it, or another of these calamities may be along next summer.

Key to Symbols