Friday, May 29, 2009

A Movie Review: Angels and Demons (2009)

Angels & Demons (2009)
Director - Ron Howard
Release Date - 15 May 2009 (USA)

Robert Langdon - Tom Hanks
Carmerlengo Patrick McKenna - Ewan McGregor
Vittoria Vetra - Ayelet Zurer
Commander Richter - Stellan SkarsgÄrd

Following the success and popularity of writer Dan Brown’s controversial novel turned movie The Da Vinci Code (2006), director Ron Howard returns with the follow-up project Angels & Demons, again starring Tom Hanks as super-hero symbolygist professor Robert Langdon, who makes his way rapidly through the streets of Rome and the Vatican City following a series of clues as he strives to save the entire city from the impending doom of a cataclysmic explosion caused by the recently stolen vial of anti-matter, created during a secret experiment by physicists including Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer), and being used to reap revenge on the Catholic church during it’s time of conclave while it awaits the anointing of a new Pope, and all signs point to the secret society of the Illuminati, a group throughout the centuries consisting of scientists and rationalists oppressed and at odds with the church.

If the pace of that paragraph felt a bit rushed, so did the movie. As in the The Da Vinci Code, a film I enjoyed a bit more, the events that take place are hurried and unreasonable. With just a matter of hours to uncover a somewhat reasonably sophisticated plot, Robert Langdon doesn’t miss a beat. With each statue and turn of an old manuscript, he is able to solve some fairly complex puzzles without much effort (though, to the credit of this film, not everyone survives.) The introduction of a female side-kick in physicist Zurer leaves us questioning her necessity. Sure, she is instrumental in solving parts of the mystery, but her entire character feels forced into Langdon’s world of decryption.

Along with the uncovering of plot there is the on-going story of the death of one Pope and the election of another. Ewan McGregor does a fantastic job as a clergyman who is the rightful holder of the Pope’s responsibilities during the Cardinals conclave, and his role is central to pulling all aspects of the film together. There is an ever-present dialogue between characters discussing science and religion, and whether they exist together or at odds with one another. The discussions do not get very deep or preachy, but with so much being packed in to such a short time, there really isn’t any room for it anyway.

Unfortunately, leave it to the sequel (although not a sequel in any real terms) to try and turn it up a notch and end up with a slightly less satisfying and butchered project. Much like the 2004 film National Treasure, which I found to be hokey but fun and very watchable, National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007) was a complete mess and always felt hurried, like it was trying to make a profit faster than the original.

Considering the seriousness of the situation the characters in this film find themselves, I found some attempts at comic-relief to be out of place and distasteful. In bad need of a change of clothes after encountering a pool of blood, and after a conversation that clearly indicates the professor’s non-faith, Carmerlengo Patrick McKenna issues Langon clothes resembling his own. He asks: “Would it surprise you to find these clothes fit you?” to which the professor replies “It would surprise the hell out of me.”

Filled with the expected twists you will never see coming (believe me, you can try and you can think you have it nailed, but you won’t ever really get it, even at the end, a lot is left on the table I still don’t get) it is still a fun ride with some nice views on location, and Hanks has his normal charm as the main focus. If nothing else see it for Ewan McGregor’s performance. If you liked the first one, you’ll probably enjoy this one, but I would think slightly less so.

** 1/2 out of 5

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