‘Angels and Demons’ Retro Review

Director: Ron Howard

Cast: Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer

Plot: Robert Langdon and his hair travel to Italy to unravel an ancient conspiracy and stop a terrorist attack.

Review: It is frequently asked of Tom Hanks’ character Robert Langdon if he hates the Catholic Church (following the events of ‘The Da Vinci Code’). This is a question better directed at director Ron Howard. Three things you can do to make a character look evil: smoking, talking on mobile phones and wearing sunglasses. Seeing each and every Cardinal partaking in these activities as they arrive for enclave does not serve as a nice introduction – nor does a scene shortly thereafter in which a church leader states that they shouldn’t worry about the thousands of people crowded into the Vatican unaware of the imminent destruction of the place because they’ll “be going to Heaven eventually anyway”. For a moment it looks like the books may be balanced when Ewan McGregor’s Carmelengo breaks into a rousing speech to defend the religion, only to blather on about how they “tried to stop progress” and tried to warn scientists because they didn’t respect the “AWESOME power” of lightning.

I never believed that Dan Brown had set out to topple the ancient organisation of the church through thinly drawn and baseless conspiracy theories, but I’m beginning to suspect that Ron Howard might be having a crack at it.

Anyway – looking at the film ‘Angels and Demons’ on its own merits, as a piece of entertainment. It’s a muddled and confused piece of crap. Every performer is terminally miscast. Hanks counters criticism against his role in his previous outing by not bothering to try and McGregor sounds like he’s reading directly from the script (and if my Ulster accent ever sounded anything like that, please gag me now). The wide cast of nameless characters are completely interchangeable – as one dies another simply starts reading their lines – and only serve to have someone available for Hanks to talk at. The exception to this is Ayelet Zurer as Vittoria Vetra: shes only there to stand next to him. Nikolaj Lie Kaas is memorable as the least threatening villain of the year, coming across like the third member of Flight of the Conchords instead of a deadly assassin killer.

Howard has paid attention to critics, who frequently claimed that ‘The Da Vinci Code’ got bogged down in excessive exposition. ‘Angels and Demons’ goes the other way and reduces the story down to a series of dot-points, some scenes featuring Hanks doing little more than rattling of a series of dates and facts. A couple of crowbarred in plot devices provide the only motivating factor for the characters and scenes are linked together through unconvincing dues-ex-machina (wait…this bit of floor is a different shape to the others!). The complex and carefully planned murder spree of the assassin is heavily reliant on large crowds of people facing the other direction, and he must have a soft spot of ol’ Hanks as in two consecutive scenes in which he murders several police he knowingly lets Hanks live to thwart him another day. But maybe he was simply keen to put the Italian police force out of their misery as they are all remarkably dense or possibly hard of hearing. They refuse to listen to Hanks despite his track record of being completely right and are frequently seen running into the distance while Hanks is left yelling “this way…over here!”

All of this simply adds up to a bad movie. When ‘Angels and Demons’ really gets into farce territory is when random characters stop to deliver badly written, badly delivered motivational speeches to themselves, each other and the viewer. “Show me what real cops are made off!” whines Robert Langdon as he convinces a couple of police officers to help him stop a murder (I hope he feels guilty for getting them both killed in the process). “So the church pleads: ‘stop’, ‘slow down’, ‘think’, ‘wait'” whinges the Carmelengo in defense of the churches habit of murdering scientists in one of the most cringe worthy scenes. Not only does this film provide some of the worst dialogue of the year, each performer ensures that it’s delivered in the same whiny, petulant tone.

As a director, Howard performs as badly as anyone else. The movie is devoid of much needed sense of urgency and scenes tailor made for high tension – the Vatican Achieves and the fountain murder – are so badly paced they completely fail to move the viewer anywhere near the edge of their seat. Howard also thinks his audience are total idiots – or maybe he’s one himself – as everything is explained almost out loud at to the camera. A dying man looks into Hanks eyes and holds out a key. Just in case we couldn’t fathom the meaning of this act, Hanks helpfully says “maybe he wanted me to have this key. No duh. In a final, crushing blow Howard keeps the movie running for more than twenty minutes after the climax in order to unravel a hitherto unmentioned conspiracy where we find out that someone else did it. By this point it’s hard to fathom how anyone could still possibly care, since the story had essentially been wrapped up, but in the ultimate boneheaded move Howard completely fails to give the newly revealed arch-villain any adequate motivation. In the book on which the film was based, this ultimate betrayal is the result of the sins of his father, a revelation that shakes his very belief in not only the church and God, but the one man who he looked up to. In the film version it essentially comes down to science really pissing him off.

Looking at previously posted reviews, it seems that movie has been thrown a couple of stars and points for being ‘better than the first one’. By that logic the stuff I emptied out of the cat litter tray this morning is deserving of at least six stars. Either compared to the original or on its own merits Angels and Demons is still a terrible, mishandled movie. If you do end up watching this, make sure you have a magazine handy…I’m glad I did.

TWO outta TEN