The lovable symbolist [Tom Hanks] is back, following another trail of creepy clues to a secret, ancient, evil club “the Illuminati”, and to foil another vendetta against Catholicism. This of course consists of sight-seeing around Rome with a brainy beauty.
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Dan Brown is not nearly as smart as he'd have you believe, and he's not a particularly good writer either. Both Angels and Demons and his previous screen offering The Da Vinci Code (in the novels the sequel to the other and not the way they were shot) suffered from poorly developed characters.
In the same way that Da Vinci was exciting on an intellectual level if you could get over the banality of the plot, so Angels and Demons sticks hundreds of years of history on a shaky frame.
We again follow symbologist Robert Langdon on a frantic dash, this time through Rome and the Holy City itself, to stop the Church from literally exploding.
Forget for a moment that antimatter can't be sustained without constant monitoring, negating its potential as a weapon. If you care about the characters and what's at stake, you can hold the world hostage with a bread knife.
But Ron Howard's film is marred by pacing that feels like a student driver at the wheel slamming on the brakes and gas in turn. The transitions to urgency feel as awkward as the ridiculous high heeled boots on the one and only female in the film, a scientist who want her antimatter back who trails Langdon tap tap tap in her impossible footwear.
She also seems to have a miraculously encyclopaedic knowledge of Roman art history, piping in with the answers when Langdon, the supposed expert, comes up blank.
There's no humor to break up the morose seriousness of the whole process. Instead of feeling like we're on a rollercoaster, Howard has given us a film that's more like being stuck in stop and go traffic.
The big problem here as in the first film is the lack of emotional connection with either Langdon or his passion for his subject. And we're also missing some essential sense in the quest of the importance of what he's trying to accomplish. When even the Church fathers protest that life is in God's hands, what's the point in trying to save anyone?
Only Ewan McGregor manages to show true emotion within the antiseptic world of old men and their immense power over a billion true believers. Otherwise, we're aware mostly of the uncomfortable arrogance in the halls of the Vatican. And McGregor's impassioned speech to the conclave characterizing the church hierarchy as a compassionate body of "simple souls" with the welfare of the world foremost in their minds just serves to highlight the most self-serving self-impression of the clergy when delivered to a group of elderly, conservative, predominately white men.
It's enough to make you ask what's worse -- the purported sins of scientists in attempting to harness nature, or presuming to speak for God?
The first episode demonstrating anything like true goodness in the Christian tradition is shown by ordinary Romans acting without any knowledge of the dire circumstances threatening the Eternal City.
And more people pour INTO St. Peter's Square after learning of the bomb threat, not saying anything too complimentary about the wisdom that comes with great faith.
All this muddiness leads up to a quite spectacular climax which may make the film worth watching and cover up its greater flaws. There are some exciting scenes, but all in all a feeling that we've see most of it before.
And after the sacrifice that comes along with the most dramatic moments of the film, you can't help feeling a little sad that self-sacrifice for the greater good is so uncommon in our world as to be nearly unbelievable, and thus worthy of adulation.
In the end, Angels and Demons has lost its way to any kind of universal meaning much the way that the way to the mysterious Church of the Illuminati is lost at the start of the film. And the question presented, unintentionally, seems to be mostly about the innate hypocrisy of choosing inspiration over truth, and the insanity of the power imbued in the one office that is the Papacy, and hence in one man.
You just kind of wish Dan had been smart enough to ask it.
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