Oh dear. I believe I’ve misled you. There are no bears in this movie. If that’s a deal-breaker for you, I understand, and it’s okay if you wish to stop reading now and track down a movie that does have bears. Because odds are it’s better than this, anyway.
Yes, we’ve arrived at Ron Howard’s Angels & Demons, the not-in-any-way-awaited sequel to his 2006 hit, The Da Vinci Code. Both are based on novels by this Dan Brown character and star a guy by the name of Tom Hanks. Da Vinci was quite literally a self-important National Treasure with Jesus. It was bad. Angels & Demons works a slightly different bit of voodoo (which I guess is refreshing in that it’s not an exact copy of its predecessor), but I assure you that it’s just as bad. If not worse.
Angels & Demons charges itself with a very weighty task that it is thoroughly incapable of delivering upon. It takes place almost entirely in Vatican City and details much intrigue in the way of papacy, outlandish chemistry, and the power struggle between science and religion. Had this been a good movie, it might have been really good. (Sigh…)
Hanks comes back to his Da Vinci role, playing Harvard professor Robert Langdon who is called in for assistance when–after the recent passing of a beloved pope–four major Vatican cardinals in contention for the open seat are kidnapped. The symbol of the Illuminati is left behind as a calling card. The Illuminati are an underground brotherhood of men who favor the ways of science over that of religion and have been in a constant war with the Catholic church for centuries. Langdon had written a book about them once and as far as I can tell; that is why he is asked for help. Just that. Because no one else on the whole damn planet knows anything about these guys.
Meanwhile, someone has gone and stolen an electronically incubated vile of “anti-matter” (which, if you plan on getting any enjoyment out of anything here, you’re just going to have to accept this movie’s interpretation of what that is). This is quickly found to have a definite link with the kidnapped cardinals, and it is then discovered that it is being hidden away and will inevitably blow up Vatican City unless they can find it before its battery dies. And that should be around midnight.
So, that’s a whole lot these guys have to deal with, right? Between these Illuminati dudes and the kidnapped cardinals and the anti-matter that will blow up the Vatican, it would seem that they’d need to bring in a whole mess of people to help keep this situation under control and save the day. Or maybe just Tom Hanks. And only Tom Hanks.
Oh, sure there’s Stellan Skarsgaard running around as the local police commander, but half the time he just seems to be grumbling at someone or sitting behind a desk, waiting for Tom Hanks to finish doing all the things that he should be doing–like finding the cardinals and, of course, saving for dead last finding the thing that’ll blow up the whole city. Yeah, no need to rush that one. But it’s all just Tom. He’s the appointed He-Man of this movie and I’m not even sure why. In theory, I should go ahead and let preposterous stuff like this slide by in this kind of movie, but when my boredom and frustration accumulates this much then I can’t help noticing it and letting it really bother me.
I kept feeling like maybe I was missing something at every turn, but looking back there’s just no way that could have been the case. Everything is clarified and reclarified a hundred different times in a hundred different ways to make the movie seem much longer and more convoluted than it is or needs to be. It’ll try to trick you into respecting its imaginary complexity, but don’t let it! The basic formula for the movie is this: let’s look for a cardinal, let’s chat for a bit, let’s get into some crazy shenanigans and then let’s go do it all over again. Lather, rinse, repeat.
It’s one of the laziest and sloppiest paint-by-numbers summer blockbusters that I’ve seen in some time. Not even Spider-Man 3 was this lifeless. (Granted, Angels & Demons doesn’t quite resonate on the same level of unholy clusterfuck that Spider-Man 3 did.) Everyone in this movie, right from the get-go, just seems bored as hell (especially Hanks). After about a half-hour or so I was asking myself, “Who the hell are these people and what do I care about what’s happening?” I never got an answer. Just the same drab blah-blah-blechh. The only thing surprising about this movie is how grisly it is for a PG-13. (Seriously, if you take away Howard, Hanks, and money, you’ve got an R-rating on this one in a second.)
But even with that ante upped a bit, most of the action and suspense in this movie is a complete and utter joke. At first, director Ron Howard is so desperate to not force his audience into a coma that he actually goes so far as to turn cars making U-turns into minor action sequences. Maybe it’ll work on some, but I’m not falling for it, sir.
Once the stakes get a little bit higher, he upgrades to shutting off the power and air to the Vatican Archives, locking Tom Hanks and an expendable (armed) buddy inside, to bang against the glass doors, praying for a way out as their air supply runs low. Did I mention the buddy was armed? Hanks makes use of this only after the buddy is passed out and he’s climbed up one of the many large book shelves and rocked his body weight back and forth, letting it fall against the glass–and to no avail. Then he tries the gun.
There are some things I liked about the movie. Very few, but they were there–mainly in performances. I always like to see Stellan Skarsgaard in something, so that was nice. And even David Pasquesi (Stu the meat-man from Strangers with Candy) showed up! I also really liked Ewan McGregor as the camerlengo in great mourning of the loss of the pope. Well, I should clarify that I liked him up to a point–and you’ll know that point when it hits, I promise you. It’ll hit you like a limp body slamming into a stone wall. The real strong point of the film, however, is Armin Mueller-Stahl, whose performance as Cardinal Strauss hits all the right notes and winds up creating easily the most human and interesting character in the whole film.
But, friends, the film isn’t worthy of any of these few fleeting good traits because there is quite simply nothing to it. Where it all ends up and the obnoxious ordeal that it takes to get there is a profound misconception on every level. Angels & Demons is exactly what it should not have been in light of its ideas and subject matter–a film with zero ambition. It wrecklessly weaves its way around lofty ideas and themes with no desire to do little more than acknowledge their existence. Just when you think it might be building towards a shred of respectable integrity, it trades in relevance and intelligence for unnecessary plot twists and arbitrary action sequences. Shame.