Good, Evil, or just plain Bad: Predicting the quality of Angels & Demons.

Posted on 12 May 2009 by Quaid

Let’s see a show of hands. Who liked the DaVinci code?

Hmmm. That’s about what I thought. It’s odd to me that a movie with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 24% has scored a sequel. But I guess that’s what happens when you get Richie Cunningham and Forrest Gump involved in a franchise.

angelsdemonsposterIt’s crazy. Both men have won Oscars, and both men have no shame in cashing in on a series of popular books for a quick buck.

But that’s not what I want to write about. Now that I’ve made my prejudices painfully obvious, I am going to attempt the impossible: I’ll try to be unbiased.

Let’s examine what we know of this movie, piece by piece, and see if we can figure out whether it has a snowball’s chance in hell of being a good film.

We’ll start with the obvious. Advertising. The producers of this movie have gone to great lengths to make us think it’s a 100% clone of The DaVinci Code. They’ve done such a good job, what with the overly dramatic teaser and “greatest secret ever” voice-over, that I kind of believe them, and that bodes poorly for the movie’s chances at quality. The DaVinci Code was a film that took itself far too seriously and never managed to really draw audience members into its story. In addition, it had some of the worst exposition I’ve seen in a film…ever. Complete with Hanks’s Robert Langdon spouting off backstory and mythological symbology at a breakneck pace and in a comically dramatic tone.

davinciposterIt wasn’t good, and if this new movie strives to be just like it, as it seems to, it probably won’t be very good either. Just like in the original, Langdon is called in to investigate a series of symbological clues. Just like in the original, he has a beautiful, exotic girl at his side. Just like in the original, someone wants him dead. These are all things that sucked in DaVinci.

But there are differences between the two movies; that much is clear. This one covers a conspiracy involving the Illuminati and the Catholic Church. Based on what I can gather, it looks like this movie is much more localized in the Vatican and takes place in a compressed period of time–while a group of Cardinals elects the new Pope and the Illuminati plot their revenge. In all, this sounds a lot more “thriller”-ish, which bodes well for the movie. If it gets silly enough, it just might be able to allow itself to be a fun, crazy adventure ride.

That hope is quelled, though, when you take another look at the talent involved. I know it’s a very un-PC position for a film fan to have, but I am absolutely NOT a Ron Howard fan. Sure, Apollo 13 was fantastic and Ransom was a lot of fun, but Frost/Nixon was one of the most self-important, overrated films in years, and A Beautiful Mind was a paint-by-numbers drama saved only by a great performance on the part of Russell Crowe. In general, though, Ron Howard is a painfully safe director. He always makes the obvious choice, and subtlety is a lost concept to the man. That’ the biggest reason I am down on this film. It’s going to be directed totally straightforwardly, without a hint of fun or irony. So much for playing up the camp factor.

And this movie screams for camp. I mean, for God’s sake, the plot centers on stolen anti-matter and the threat of Vatican City being “consumed…by light.” If this is played straight, unintentional laughter is the only possible result.

We’re nearing the end of our “unbiased analysis,” but I wanted to bring up two very small–but very important–points that actually bode well for this film.

angelsdemonsstill2The first is Ewan McGregor. I’ve decided I’m going to like his performance and his character in this film. Based on the clips I’ve seen, it appears his is the voice of reason in the midst of the staunch, cold Catholic church, and it seems he will play the role with an honest, naïve gusto. I also like the idea of seeing the leaders of the church debate matters of faith and politics–call it a weird quirk of a Catholic education.

Second, and maybe most importantly, we must consider the important issue of Tom Hanks’s hair. In the original, he had that awkward in-between-long-and-short haircut going on…you know, the kind that wanna-be rebellious 14-year-old bass players have? It was aweful, truly the worst hair and makeup choice in recent memory.

For this film, his hair looks normal. I’m a little amazed at how much more seriously I can take the character now. He reminds me more of a Jack Ryan type badass. Before, it seemed even I would be capable of kicking the character’s ass.

In the end, though, I doubt these small blessings are enough to redeem the film which hits theaters this weekend. I hope I am wrong. Maybe this will be fun, over-the-top popcorn fare that won’t pound home its silly premise as serious drama. Or maybe it will make a lot of money…and be just like the first one.                           

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