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Angels & Demons (2009)

Science and Religion. Light and Darkness. Truth and Lies. Matter and Antimatter. All destined to cataclysmically neutralize each other in a single touch, with any small or epic scale, “evil” or “good” plan to compromise these values, destined to fail in the long run. Those were the simple, core concepts of the Angels & Demons novel by Dan Brown. Or shall I rather NOT elegantly put it – Matter of Fact and Matter of Fucked. Oh well, by the time Camerlengo Patrick McKenna proclaims, like a fairy queen on a white unicorn among the holy, devil-clad male hags “Open the doors, and tell the world the truth” you know that something is terribly wrong, preposterous and sometimes outright ridiculous about this movie.
The official Christianity all over the world that lunched a counter campaign against The Da Vinci Code some years ago, now can as well lunch a promotional campaign for this movie which is not just out of the novel’s text, but totally out of context. A backed up by research statement that puts churchyard imagery, tailored ethics and primeval beliefs right to the stake, seems to be reduced to a mumbo-jumbo dynamic dialogue taken from a light or even trash tv show, starring loud-mouthed “religiosos” and I-only-care-for-my-show-off, coward, venal and fallen scientists. Everyone will walk happy from this movie, so safe of the punditry of their beliefs, so sure that two millennia of contradiction and collision between reason and unreasonable, progress and legalized doctrine violence, is just a misunderstanding that can be mended with peace, love, “laughiness”, understanding and unconditional pot. A novel that advocates and advances common sense through an entertaining, masterwork thriller, turns into just an entertaining thriller dressed up in common sense the way a wolf fits in sheep’s clothes. Apart from the obvious light-hearted and heavy-pocketed producers, the architect of this “diplomatic achievement” is ones more the infamous from Batman and Robin Akiva Goldsman, bane of all franchises and originality as a virtue. Koepp, the co-writer, had his time with Spider Man and Jurassic park, but here they both act like mercenary nuns, who tread lightly between the “religiosos’” softness and umbrageousness and everyone else’s nerves. Needless to say that if Goldsman haven’t had so unexpectedly pointed out the best of the Da Vinci Code in the prequel, he would have added a new fan base in his mortal enemy collection – the Dan Brown fans. The not so willing caretaker of this “diplomatic achievement” is the main protagonist itself. I think that the possible miscast Tom Hanks looks more like Robert Langdon in this movie than the previous one, though he neither speaks nor acts in a Professor’s magnitude. But it is actually the screenplay again that, especially regarding his part, turns everything upside – down to, should I say, sacrilegious proportions. Movie Langdon is so deliberately naïve for a Harvard professor that you couldn’t pass the criticism even if you wanted to. When Langdon argues his worst in front of priests bragging on years ago downfallen clichés, it is really a shame for the novel reader to watch. For example, when the Camerlengo says something like “Science is too young to understand religion*” Langdon immediately self-destructs in jerkiness and political correctness. Well guys, in a more than 6.000.000 years humanoid span, high intelligence is also “very young” to understand religion (even if it understands it and promotes it veeeery well if need be), but it is still the best thing we’ve got, the thing that parts us and protect us from beasts and elements, the thing that can even expose our own fears and religious follies. Ok, Langdon occasionally gives historical facts and figures that will shake people from now and then, but generally he acts like a freshman, unsure of his knowledge and abilities. His overpowered by priesthood’s punch lines figure, goes well along with the lack of scientific backup the movie suffers, back up that every Dan Brown hands-on is full and proud of. By seemingly not being aware of the critical close to conclusion Universal Model of Existence, the Origins of Species and so much solid evidence of the chanceful structure and mechanics of evolution – in which a god factor doesn’t fit not even in the bottom line references – Langdon becomes both the bread and the butter of dogmatic mumble. In the novel, Langdon is an academic icon, a well made archetype of how a successful researcher owes to be. A self-confident man, who knows the nature of things and puts them to good use, even near the end at HIS long-shot escape from the helicopter. In the movie he is a less than meets the eye wuss, ready to succumb to punny inner faith struggles and crumble like an old lady, the first time a wise looking smooth talker hits him with a slick verbal sophistication.
Ayelet Zurer plays the totally diminished and unrecognized character of novel’s Vittoria Vetra by doing nothing important in the whole movie apart from showing off her charming Italian accent and elegant figure. Even the romance with Langdon was totally out off the picture so… so much for the appearance anyway! Easy task. Easily executed. Easy to watch.
I’ve never liked Ewan McGregor, and this movie makes no difference. Not as a bon viveur. Not as a Jedi. Not at all. He is typically less than the circumstances call for, so held back, always in such an unwanted control. Well in this movie he got more control than his naturally asks for. Akiva Goldsman, who still tries to make peace with the movie gods, now once again takes the downward slope putting everyone on a pretty short lease – except maybe from the numerous police/security b-characters that were surprisingly well highlighted in the movie – I give you that Aki! The fact that the screenplay was caught between the Writers Strike last year is a good excuse, but good excuses generally spawn bad themes and characters. Pope’s aide in the novel is a methodical, power hungry, criminally malevolent MAN WITH A PLAN. Not an under acted 40 year old virgin, who tries desperately to balance and convince as a conspirator, murderer, schemer and master hypocrite, lost between all predictable religious politeness, village spiritualism and personal gain.
In this movie “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” and this is certainly not the Danish actor Nikolaj Lie Kaas. The blind pawn, fooled and doped with Vatican mischievousness, fanatic Islamite Hashshashin, through typical for the movie politically correct process, became a colourless and ideologically harmless every day assassin that suited the movie just fine. But this time the actor really plays his part – even a small one like this. He is cold, cool, pretty threatening on the screen and even dominating sometimes, a steadfast stand-out figure among the rather un-cool, hot-shots. I don’t think that it would be an exaggeration to say that he single handedly delivers the best action packs in the movie without acting boastful or unrealistic.
And when almost all else fail (except from the assassin and the great soundtrack) Ron Howard comes to save the day. At least, until you think about the movie twice. He is Goldsman’s accomplice – no doubt about that – but he is illustrious, has a golden eye for action and his pacing – although the movie sometimes feels pretty long – pays the only authentic tribute to the novel. Without doing very much of anything else than acting sensibly, he does the trick and earns his money. The whole movie becomes grandeur of Rome sightseeing, clever commerce, especially rregarding Lancia, is everywhere and the thrilling moments are always catchy and well-shot but without an overall satisfying climax. Flat-out against the clock action, that does not share the prequel’s long philosophical pauses for discussion and controversy, but then critical content of the novel and plot points are missing here to allow a different treatment. Howard lets all characters breathe at the best of the movie’s abilities – so sad that they aren’t allowed by the screenplay to say all that “was initially on their mind”.
All things considered, the Da Vinci Code was a calculated punch in the stomach as a novel and an uppercut for the masses as a movie. The movie Angels & Demons is, at times, just a politically correct puke from the stomach. It looks good and exhilarating, it promises dramatic detoxification, but in the end it just smells bad, leaving a bitter taste in your mouth. A masterpiece that never chewed its words and intentions turns into a mass entertainment image, that pampers religious people for all that is worth. Even if this movie doesn’t belong to this blog – and this is probably true – it doesn’t belong where it should and that’s a great loss and even greater annoyance.
For a few dollars more and a few law suits less, an opportunity to adapt a “people changer” novel into an equally powerful movie, is forever lost.

P.P.S. Actually science is much older than religion. When the hominidae ancestor before the human-chimpanzee genome split, took a stone for the first time and use it to brake-open fruit, he applied – without realizing – the scientific rule and reasoning: she saw and visualized the stone against the fruit (observation), she tried the stone against the fruit (experiment), when successful she put it again in use (retrial) and after succeeding multiple times she adopted this way (method) of braking-open fruits. This was long before standing on her hinder legs, using a stick or having even the most basic inquiry about things such as the origin of the sun, the moon and the rest of the natural world, including her. We can flash back on this principle by looking at today’s chimpanzees. They learn to use crude tools and can teach their use to each other, but they are far from any abstract conception of the divine. On the contrary to the popular, media infested, belief that science is an ultra highly perplexed obscurity, remotely far from the human average, the truth is that the scientific…Holy Triad (observation, experiment and retrial) in its core concept, is accessible and useable even by animals. Cause & consequence, evident reality and practicality are simple and reachable. Complex delusions are those requiring complex brains.

1 comment:

Grimwall said...

Very well written, very well stated and very correct in all parts.

That bitter taste in the mouth, that missed opportunity to transfer a great book into a movie, shot in the Vatican and Rome, that extremely light screenplay which had nothing to do with the story or the general feeling of the book.

My only addition to the fail is the direction which I personally found choppy. Even though it shows the sceneries of Rome and the Vatican very well, the action scenes were rather loose and the fluidity was missing, which is why the movie seemed longer than it was at times.

Still, a great VA_Gunner review is always exactly that. Cheers!