Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Angels and Demons

It's become cliche over the past couple years to refer to Ron Howard's The Da Vinci Code by using some variation of the following: "Every time the characters went anywhere, they would pause to give you a history lesson." While mostly true, this statement belies the fact that The Da Vinci Code was actually rather entertaining. Yes, it was rooted in Dan Brown's brand of fictionalized history, but it balanced speeches with car chases and, more importantly, offered a character arc for Hanks' Robert Langdon that was arguably as important as the controversial subject matter for which he was searching.

Where Angels & Demons fails, though, is exactly where the book triumphs over it's counterpart: the breakneck pace that works so well on the page falls flat when you actually grab a camera and start to film the events taking place. This leaves Angels & Demons with much to be desired, and sentences it to the film world's worst nightmare: being a boring movie covered in weak sauce.

Angels & Demons
Director: Ron Howard
Starring: Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer

It doesn't help that this movie was adapted for the big screen by two of the most incompetent writers in Hollywood right now. Akiva "Batman and Robin" Goldsman and David "Indy 4" Koepp have taken all the fun and excitement out of Robert Langdon. In The Da Vinci Code (which in the book world took place before the events of A&D, but in the film world is a sequel to it), Langdon was a wild-eyed professor thrown into the field for the first time, excited to be a part of a legendary quest that had been going on for centuries. This time around, he's not as energized.

Could this be considered the writers' attempt at character growth, making Langdon more of a man hardened by his past experience than a newbie out for the glory? Possibly, but that would imply a level of depth that I doubt these particular writers possess. Even Indiana Jones had passion in his fourth go-around: Langdon has none here, in his second outing (with at least one more in the pipeline, since Dan Brown's new book finally drops in September). It seems the only thing he truly cares about is selfishly finishing the second volume of his book, which seems strange with the lessons he seemed to have learned by the end of his last adventure. Langdon is a pure academic, through and through. Even when he meets a beautiful scientist (who seems to mirror his intelligence in other fields), she's not enough to attract little more than a glance from the asexual professor.

It's kind of embarrassing how desperate Howard and Co. are to trick the audience into believing something interesting is happening. The camera is always moving, panning, sweeping, implying motion and big things when nothing really takes place. Sure the characters move from location to location, but when they do it's in the most boring manner possible. (Hanks gets in a car, camera cuts to headlight as it peels out. Cut to car arriving.) In the "talky" scenes, the camera circles the actors, trying to lure us into believing the pace is a lot faster than it really is. Why can't Ron and his crew realize that this type of film really isn't that much different from his recent Frost/Nixon? There's not much action in that, either - but the difference is that he knows what kind of film that is and doesn't try to dupe the audience. He relishes in the long takes, the slow camera movements, the close ups, the static shots. If only he could have employed some of those tactics here, A&D might have been a movie that I would consider watching again.

Another way in which The Da Vinci Code shows its superiority is through the acting of the secondary characters. Audrey Tatou was enchanting as usual in the role of Sophie Neveu, Jean Reno was great as Captain Bezu Fache, and Ian McKellen added a nice touch of flair as the flamboyant Leigh Teabing. Angels & Demons gives no help to Langdon (this time when he desperately needs it), instead giving him only Ewan McGregor to contend with and even that only lasted one scene. That scene stood out as being particularly strange to me. If I recall, at the end of The Da Vinci Code, Langdon seems to have come to grips with a higher power existing. But when Camerlengo McKenna (McGregor) asks him if he believes in God in Angels & Demons, Langdon gives him a vague excuse and doesn't commit to anything. Maybe my memory is shaky, but I found that to be a little bizarre.

Spoilers ahead.

One other huge thing that I wanted to mention was the way this film handles confrontation differently than its predecessor. The Da Vinci Code dealt mainly with visceral realities - the slice of Silas' whip as he tore his own skin, the constant presence of guns, the imminent threat of violence, the impact of a car chase. Angels & Demons chooses to go with a much more detached view of the world. The main threat comes in video form; a feed depicting a ticking countdown of a bomb poised to destroy Vatican City. Interestingly enough, the church decides that technology (aka science, their mortal enemy!) is the way to solve this problem, opting to shut down the city's power grids one by one until they can determine the location of the bomb. Robert Langdon discovers the true villain through a video capture system in a computer, and turns the Camerlengo in to the authorities by revealing the footage. He never gets in a fist fight with the culprit, never matches wits in the climax, never shoots or stages an elaborate trap. He finds a video and turns it in.

Even the bomb itself is detonated above the clouds outside of the onlookers' view (ie: detached, keeping with the theme), forming a beautiful but ridiculous shock of color across the sky, as if heaven's doors had opened on the audience in St. Peter's Square. Howard is making a statement: he understands the YouTube world in which we live, and realizes the effect that it's having on us as a society. I can't imagine that he approves. [Small aside: that helicopter sequence was RIDIC. And the setup for it was painful to watch. "I used to fly rescue helicopters..." Give me a break.]

End of Spoilers.

If you couldn't infer as much by what I've said so far, I'll spell it out for you: skip this one. It's one of the few movies that I've considered walking out of - not because it was bad, but just because we could have found something better to do with our time. As for the third film being developed? I'm not paying to see it. I'll read the book, and I might see it on DVD/Blu-Ray, but I'm not paying to see it in theaters. I've given enough money to this franchise and they haven't sufficiently rewarded me, so I'm taking a stand. I suggest you do the same - not just with this movie, but with all franchises that you feel have slighted you in some way. Hitting them in their wallets is the only way to get any changes made in Hollywood, so take the power you have as a consumer and exercise it! Until next time...


BranzAm said...

A&D is a prequel to DaVinci in the book world. Isn't the A&D movie a sequel?

Ben Pearson said...

Thank you sir. That's what I meant. Apologies.

I don't care if a movie is spoiled for me as long as I get to see boobies said...

I read the spoilers.