Andy Bockelman: Heavenly artworks, devilishly dull acting
The film adaptation of “The Da Vinci Code” brought to life the global adventure of Dan Brown’s novel of the same name. While the disappointment of that version lingers, the follow-up “Angels & Demons” is an improvement, although still hardly divine.
Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is at it again – the Harvard symbologist who has been petitioning for research access to the Vatican archives for years has finally gotten his wish. In a way.
The recent death of the pope has triggered a variety of events, both expected and unexpected: The international congregation of cardinals at Vatican City is normal to elect the new pope through the conclave election process, but this peaceful and holy happening turns violent. Not only are four papal candidates kidnapped and held hostage, but the mysterious group keeping them captive claims to be representing the Illuminati, a centuries-old sect devoted to truth through science.
The society’s suppression by the Roman Catholic Church is something with which Langdon is very familiar, but the Illuminati’s use of an anti-matter bomb stolen from a Switzerland research facility puts him in over his head. With just hours to find the missing cardinals and the bomb, Langdon needs the help of one of the scientists (Ayelet Zurer) who developed the energy source to save all of Vatican City, the encompassing city of Rome and perhaps the Catholic community worldwide.
Hanks sheds the shaggy hair unnecessarily added to Langdon in “Da Vinci Code” for a more appropriate coif. Not that the hair makes the character much more interesting, but at least he can be taken seriously. Although when the most intriguing part of a man is his Mickey Mouse wristwatch, what else can be said?
Zurer isn’t particularly amazing as scientist Vittoria Vetra, either, and gets little opportunity to show her skills as it is. The same cannot be said about Ewan McGregor as the pope’s adviser, Camerlengo Patrick McKenna, curiously altered from his literary rendering from a man with Italian background to an Irish one. McGregor doesn’t get much focus, but he succeeds in rousing the crowd with an impassioned speech to the conclave.
With so many subdued characters, it’s rather ironic that typically dreary Stellan SkarsgÃ¥rd is the fieriest of the cast as Commander Richter of the Swiss Guard, the Vatican police.
Besides altering the story from a prequel to a sequel in its relation to “The Da Vinci Code,” there isn’t a great deal missing from this new Ron Howard film.
The subtext is quite amazing in terms of plot, cinematography and settings – of course, the Roman architecture and sculptures of Raphael, Michelangelo and Bernini naturally invoke deep imagery, both religious and secular, but there is so much more going on here. With an adequately paced story – vastly improved from the “Da Vinci Code,” which had crowds tripping over their own feet as they followed one chase after another – and a brilliant interplay of light and darkness at all times, director Howard achieves a kind of symmetry that Illuminati member Galileo would envy.
He shows us the goodness and evil of mankind, the power of the faithful and the downfall of the wicked. What ruins this is not the far-fetched storyline – which nobody buys for a minute, anyway – but the inability of the actors to draw influence from any kind of relatable moments.
Let’s face it: Brown’s novels were not meant to be filmed, if for the simple reason because certain books require an inner dialogue that is spoiled when spoken aloud on screen.
“Angels & Demons” is duality incarnate. Although Howard frames the layered and telling scenery exquisitely, the people in front of it just cannot get it together.
And when you can’t get a good performance out of Tom Hanks, you’re beyond help. Sorry, Opie.
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