Movie Review – Angels & Demons
I watched “Angels & Demons” expecting escapist entertainment, because really, expecting anything else from a film based on a Dan Brown novel is just silly — I have not read “Angels & Demons”, but I read “The DaVinci Code” and if there’s one thing it teaches us, is that there is such a thing as an overwritten plot (and that, okay, bashing the Catholic Church is fun). I fully expected that for this film, with fast-paced editing to hide all the holes in it and expositional dialogue to make sure the audience could keep up with all the mythology and symbology, because it’s a well-known fact the audience is fully comprised of utter morons like myself who need arrows pointing to the screen in a movie theather so they know where to look at.
And even with my hopes low enough to be capable of withstanding an Aaron Seltzer/Jason Friedberg spoof flick for five or six minutes before slamming my own head with a car door, “Angels & Demons” still managed to fall many miles below said hopes and the more I think about the film, the more its quality approaches the center of the Earth.
In the film, scientists have managed to produce antimatter with the Large Hadron Collider. Right after they do it, the capsule containing the antimatter is stolen by a hired gun. Soon, the battery keeping the antimatter suspended in vacuum will run out of power, which will result in a huge — yes. In other words, the movie simply uses the antimatter as a glorified (and very preposterous) nuke, and the only reason it’s antimatter and not any other kind of powerful bomb is because the plot needed an explosive device that could be made by the Large Hadron Collider (which, in real life, it can’t make anyway), for the sake of pretentious “Science vs. Religion” symbolism (something Ron Howard very subtly depicts by interrupting the flow of the movie to show a bunch of cardinals using cameras and cellphones like that’s a groundbreaking revelation or clever irony). How the hired gun knew the antimatter experiment would be successful, and why he didn’t look for a less complicated bomb, is cleverly left unexplained by the film, since any attempts to actually explain it would certainly result in utter embarassment. Shame the film stops caring about not embarassing itself in a matter of minutes.
The Vatican is about to choose the next fanatic moron to lead them and wear that remarkably goofy hat, since the previous pope has just died. However, the four favorite cardinals have been kidnapped by the same hired gun who stole the antimatter. He claims he will kill one of them every hour, starting at 8 pm, until the battery of the antimatter capsule runs out at midnight. Cry your heart out, Anton Chigurh. You spend an entire movie hunting a redneck with a briefcase and meanwhile this guy steals antimatter and kidnaps four cardinals in the first minutes of the film. However, I think this is because Chigurh is a character in an actually good movie with a believable plot. Also, the Swiss Guard are not depicted as very intelligent or efficient people in “Angels & Demons”, since their reaction to finding a cardinal immediately after he’s attacked is to stare at him dramatically as he dies instead of hunting the killer who is very possibly still around.
With the antimatter stolen and four cardinals kidnapped, the Swiss Guard turns to Robert Langdon, a symbologist who seems to think everyone around him is retarded, judging by how he finds it necessary to use Italian terms mixed in with English sentences and then translate said terms to characters who either speak or are Italian. This is especially dickish of him since he’s a religious symbologist who, in two scenes, needs help to read Italian and, for fuck’s sake, Latin. Granted, all the characters in the film have this overpowering urge to explain everything. Every time someone mentions a religious term, someone else describes it. Or the character himself does. A particularly hilarious moment is when Langdon says “You didn’t tell me they were the preferiti — the favorites to be named the next pope”. And when your character feels the need to explain what the preferiti are to the Swiss Guard — your dialogue is shit. That or your character is a pedantic asshole.
But really, I should have realized that this being a film co-written by Akiva Goldsman, I’d have to be dead and in Hell to enjoy it. Yes, the usually very competent David Koepp is the other writer, but according to imdb.com, he was hired to re-write the script. My guess is that he read it and realized the only way to re-write it would be to throw it in the fire and start over, but probably there wasn’t time for that, so he threw in one or two passable lines of dialogue and called it a day — hopefully moving to a better project that is more suitable to the man who wrote my favorite film, “Carlito’s Way”.
It isn’t only the dialogue being absurdly badly-written and the plot preposterous that ruins this film — it’s also extremely predictable. And the really pathetic part is that it tries its best to hide who the villain is — and that’s precisely why it’s so easy to figure that out. (Rest of this paragraph might reveal the villain, so spoiler warning, if you care) The writers pretty much put a halo in his head and treat him as a complete saint, while making the other characters unreasonable by contrast. They even go as far as hiring an actor who usually plays good guys for said role, while the other ones have played proeminent villains in other productions. And if you’ve ignored the spoiler warning and this reveals who the villain is for you, really, I doubt the movie would be more successful in fooling you. If it is, maybe you’ve hit your head recently.
However, what truly destroys this film and makes it such a disaster is how pretentious it is. It actually thinks it has something relevant to say about the ongoing debate (and in several cases, war) between Religion and Science. In fact, the characters feel the need to spell the movie’s simplistic message out for us, the poor misleaded audience, in case we have failed to grasp it. And at the same time, “Angels & Demons” ignores that it has invalidated its own message — and if at this point you still care about spoilers, don’t read the rest of this paragraph (or the entire review, since I’m not being too careful with spoilers anyway) — it is revealed the Illuminati do not exist in this film and are used as a deception by the villain, who is a Catholic fanatic. In other words, this whole mess has originated within the Church and there is no war between Science and Religion at all. The blame falls squarely on the Catholic Church alone. This explains why, in the ending, when a character says there is room for Religion and Science in the world, I wanted to claw my own eyeballs out.
There’s also the plotholes, of course. The executions of the preferiti are supposed to be public in order to achieve the desired effect, and yet most of them would have gone unnoticed if Langdon hadn’t found the bodies; the Great Elector says there will be no election without the preferiti, and half an hour later there he is trying to elect the new pope without them; and not only the movie fictionalizes some Vatican procedure (the Camerlengo is not as powerful as the pope during his absence, as depicted), but it fictionalizes science as well. Not only the depiction of antimatter is very dodgy, but for the love of Albert Einstein, since when taking a nuke (or antimatter that acts like a nuke) about a mile above the ground is a way of preventing destruction? Nukes detonate on the air for maximum impact — otherwise the ground soaks up a good portion of it. So when a character takes the nuke/antimatter/whatever to the skies in a helicopter, the other characters should have been trying to shoot it down with an RPG or something — but maybe then they remembered they’re in a film written by Akiva Goldsman based on a Dan Brown novel and relaxed.
The movie adds another interruption to the story so the Camerlengo can deliver a speech about Science vs. Religion that once again reiterates the film’s stupidity. “Who is more ignorant: the man who cannot define lightning, or the man who does not respect its natural awesome power?”, like you cannot both define it and respect it — and in fact, it’s thanks to attempts to understand electrical power that there is such a thing as a lightning rod. But the real gem is “There are things Science is too young to understand,” — and meanwhile the Bible claims the world was made a few thousand years ago. By an invisible man in the sky.
All this and I haven’t even talked about the technical aspects yet. I will avoid talking about the cast, since not a single actor receives a good character to play in this film. All I’ll say about the actors for having accepted their roles: are you all idiots/not rich enough yet?
Director Ron Howard continues his partnership with Akiva Goldsman by directing the film which as much ability as Goldsman writes it. Howard insists on spinning his camera around the characters while zoomed in on them, which causes that epic visual effect: the object or person focused by the camera spins slowly while the unfocused scenery behind them pans much faster. This, I presume, was Howard’s desperate attempt to make up for the endless talking and explanations. He does not restrain himself and as a result his job lacks subtlety — although the script (and Hans Zimmer’ overdone chorus-filled soundtrack) already did, but still. In fact, in two occasions, when Langdon is arriving at the possible location of a murder, he is startled by sounds that could be gunshots but are revealed to be perfectly innocent sounds from the crowd — this happens twice, consecutively.
The cinematography is not bad, although it overuses lighting coming from windows in otherwise dark rooms to shadow the many, many, many dialogue scenes. But considering this film happens in the Vatican, I can’t blame it for that, really. However, the cinematography is sabotaged by the inconsistent special effects, which reach their lowest by failing to depict the flight of helicopters convincingly — but to be fair, this might be due to Howard’s overdone camera movements.
Predictable and repetivive with only one action scene worth a fuck (the shootout in the church with a man being burned), “Angels & Demons” basically believes itself relevant and smart while at the same time believing the audience to be idiots, and the final shot is so nauseatingly optimistic and so horribly misses the point I could feel the bile trying to corrode its way out of my liver.
PS: I leave some room for the possibility of the movie being actually against the Church and pretending it’s not, in a satirical fashion, considering that the plot is pretty much revealed to be the Church’s fault alone — but this does not in any way enrich the film, since it’s never brave enough to admit its beliefs or even do satire properly, if that’s indeed the case.