The Motion/Captured Review: ‘Angels & Demons’ Tom Hanks and Ron Howard try, try again

05.14.09 8 years ago 7 Comments

Columbia Pictures

I actually had to go back to look up my review of “The Da Vinci Code” over at Ain’t It Cool to see if I’d even written one.  I didn’t remember.

That’s not a good sign.

An equally bad sign would be that, having just re-read that review, I was half-tempted to just cut and paste it here and do a search and replace of one title for the other.

Did you actually enjoy watching “The Da Vinci Code”?  Having just seen the 3-hour director’s cut on BluRay, the answer for me would be “absolutely not.”  If you would answer “yes,” then by all means… “Angels & Demons” is the big dumb summer movie for you.  But if you’re not a fan of fatally passive heroes, directors with no knack for action, and giant phone-book-sized chunks of exposition being jammed down your throat with no regards for narrative flow or audience interest, then you may want to sit this one out.

What’s most interesting is the way the film manages to build off of the flaws of the first film, making many of the same mistakes while adding in a few new ones for fun.  I thought Langdon, as played by Tom Hanks, was a total mistake in the first film.  He was so passive that things wouldn’t have played out any differently if he had never become involved in the events of the story.  And the attempt to visualize his “gift” with puzzles and codes and symbols was just nonsense that was designed to disguise the fact that this is a movie about a guy whose only heroic actions are based on explaining research he’s done.  He’s one of the most ridiculous leads in a franchise that I can even imagine, and watching Tom Hanks sleepwalk through the role a second time just confirms for me that he’s miscast, and that this is one of the most egregious examples in recent memory of a paycheck role.  Hanks is one of the smartest, most intellectually engaged actors I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and talking to, smart and probing and witty, and all of those qualities should make him perfect to play this character.  But the character, as written, is such a waste that it feels like someone bought a sports car to drive to the end of the driveway to get the mail.  Wrong tool for the job.

[more after the jump]

I know sequels are supposed to deliver some semblance of the experience of the first film to an audience… that’s the point.  “Hey, you liked that?  Well, here’s more more of it.  You’ll enjoy this even more!”  But it’s a fine line between “sequel” and “remake,” and this time out, everything felt so familiar that it almost became laughable.  And, yes, I know that the book version of “Angels & Demons” is set before the events of “The Da Vinci Code,” but the film is absolutely a sequel.  Numerous references are made to the events of that movie, most often when Langdon is talking to someone in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.  It’s all sort of winky-winky, too, like “Remember when you almost destroyed the dogma at the center of our financial empire?  Oh, you scamp.  Here… enjoy our archives.”  I don’t buy it.  I don’t buy that anyone would want to bring him into the mix on this one, no matter what book he’d written about the Illuminati.  I don’t buy the treasure hunt structure of this one, particularly since it’s a series of failures by Langdon.  “I solved it! What, he killed the Cardinal anyway?  Hmmmm… next puzzle!”  And I don’t buy the wafer-thin bad guy who is played by a forgettable actor giving a forgettable performance as a character who, unless I missed it, never even gets a name or a motivation.  Yes, I know there’s another bigger bad guy pulling the strings, and the guy is basically doing this for cash, but how does that turn him into a superhero capable of murdering a man in the middle of a crowd in dramatic giallo fashion without anyone noticing?

I should just stop.  Stop asking questions.  Stop trying to make something reasonable out of this.  If you need to understand exactly how silly this one gets, the film’s third or fourth of thirty-five false endings involves a bomb, a helicopter, a potential Pope, and a parachute, and it’s exactly as silly as those elements would suggest.  Ewan McGregor, an actor I normally like, gives one of this worst performances here, and if you consider it a spoiler for me to reveal that he’s the bad guy in the film, you have most likely never seen a movie before.  He telegraphs “the twist” from about 27 seconds after he appears onscreen.  It’s an embarrassment, and if this was meant to help return him to the world of big-budget filmmaking, I’d consider the effort a total failure.  I wouldn’t hire him for anything judging from his work here, and it makes me question his onscreen charisma in general.  He’s that bad.

It’s a big film.  It’s an unreasonably long film.  And, like “The Da Vinci Code,” it’s almost embarrassed about being a pulp story.  So instead of embracing the adventure-movie code-breaking side of things, they keep trying to turn it into something important, something literate, something that is actually “about” ideas.  Which it’s not.  In the Langdon films, genuinely interesting ideas are thrown about as clues and currency, but it’s all just set-dressing.  In the end, it’s Tom Hanks running through Rome with a hot chick beside him (the stunning Ayelet Zurer makes excellent eye candy but is saddled with a non-character to play) while trying to prevent the end of the world.  Or the end of the church.  Or something.  In a summer where I’ve already seen several films that work better than expected, I would be hard-pressed to come up with any reason to urge you to see this one, which is such a literally-minded, plodding mess.  That’s two for two for Robert Langdon onscreen.  Here’s hoping no one ever gets the itch to turn the next Dan Brown megaselling doorstop into a movie, because I don’t think I can take another round with this franchise.

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