Wineskins Archive

January 15, 2014

Movie Review: Angels and Demons (May – Jun 2009)

Filed under: — @ 4:33 pm and

by Alan Cochrum
May – June, 2009

77 - The Economy of GenerosityAngels & Demons
Starring Tom Hanks, Ayelet Zurer and Ewan McGregor
Directed by Ron Howard
Rated PG-13 (violence, disturbing images and thematic elements)

Here are two bits of advice about your breath when it comes to Angels & Demons:

(1) If you’ve been holding it, wondering just how religiously offensive the new movie based on Dan Brown’s novel is, you can probably let it out a bit.
(2) After you do, take a deep one before the movie starts, because it’s almost the last chance you’ll get for a couple of hours.

For those who’ve been living in a cave for the past few years, Brown is the author of the 2003 thriller The Da Vinci Code, in which Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon pursues the “truth” about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Leonardo da Vinci and the Holy Grail through the streets of Paris. Ron Howard cast Tom Hanks as Langdon in his 2006 film version, and now the two men are back with Angels & Demons, based on the 2000 novel in which Langdon made his debut.

The movie has a literally smashing beginning: In Italy, papal chamberlain Patrick McKenna (Ewan McGregor) is ceremonially destroying the pope’s ring after the pontiff’s death; in Switzerland, scientists at the CERN research facility are putting nuclear particles on a collision course to create antimatter. But their triumph is short-lived—scientist Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer) soon finds a colleague murdered and mutilated, and a container of antimatter missing.

As the cardinals gather to pick a new Roman Catholic leader, the Vatican asks for Langdon’s help: Four of the likely candidates for pope are missing, and the Vatican has received a message that all will be killed in a matter of hours. The key clue that brings in Langdon: an artfully symmetrical arrangement of the word Illuminati, the name for a secret society that once threatened revenge against the church for its crimes against science.

But when Langdon arrives in Rome, he also discovers that the missing antimatter has been hidden somewhere in Vatican City, where it will explode cataclysmically when the containment field fails around midnight. So Langdon and Vittoria embark on a desperate physical and intellectual race to retrace an ancient Illuminati path in hopes of heading off the deaths of the cardinals and the destruction of the Vatican.

Once Langdon climbs out of a Harvard swimming pool a few minutes into the movie, Angels & Demons barely pauses for breath. When Symbologist, Scientist and Co. aren’t tearing through the streets of Rome on the way to the next address on Illuminati Lane, they’re working their way through ancient Vatican documents, dimly lit passages or a Roman crowd, often with the possibility of a corpse or a killer (the nastily effective Nikolaj Lie Kaas) appearing just around the corner.

Is Angels & Demons likely to raise calls for a stake and some firewood? No so much as The Da Vinci Code—while the latter story (more the book than the movie) poked its thumb smack in Christianity’s eye with its revisionist religious history and its assertion of a Jesus-and-Mary-Magdalene romance, Angels & Demons is more of a straightforward thriller, albeit with Catholic figures as both heroes and villains.

The screenplay by David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman streamlines the book’s narrative considerably – for instance, eliminating the atheist scientist Maximilian Kohler, who plays key roles at the novel’s beginning and end. The elusive assassin changes from a sexually charged zealot to a straightforward killer-for-hire. Whereas the film of The Da Vinci Code toned down some of the book’s anti-church aspects, the cardinals in the movie version of Angels & Demons arguably come off as more hidebound than in the novel—although that image is softened in the film’s final moments.

And although some viewers may grumble at the lack of heat between Hanks’ and Zurer’s characters (another departure from the novel), isn’t it interesting to see an action flick in which the unwed protagonists don’t find a role in the hay necessary?

No one will mistake Angels & Demons for a valentine to the hard-working men in the Vatican. On the other hand, it’s not exactly a poke in the eye with a red-hot branding iron, either.New Wineskins

Alan Cochrum is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Texas. A former newspaperman and an alumnus of the University of Texas at Arlington, he is returning to his alma mater for graduate studies in English. He is a longtime member and Bible class teacher at North Davis Church of Christ in Arlington.

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