May 19, 2009

Angels & Demons (5/19/2009)

Lettergrade: C

I used to think that the National Treasure movies were really stupid, but that was until I saw 2006's The Da Vinci Code and realized how much worse it could really be. Perhaps I was holding it to a higher standard because the latter was based on a best-selling book and starred Tom Hanks (as opposed to a more bald-faced popcorn flick produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and starring world-class shit magnet Nicolas Cage). But now that I think of it, I don't know of anyone who has read Dan Brown's novels who hasn't said something to the effect of "there are some clever ideas in there, but the writing is AWFUL!" In any case, Angels & Demons, the sequel to Da Vinci, is probably a better film than its predecessor. Although it is effective as a religioso crime-thriller, I found it off-putting for similar reasons.

Here's the plot: The previous Pope has died, and the Catholic church is in the interim period where they're about to appoint a new Pope. Someone has kidnapped four Cardinals, who are seen as being the top candidates for the position. The bad guys promise to kill one would-be Pope an hour -- all along something called the "Trail of Light," which was made up of meeting places of the Illuminati, a secret organization devoted to science that has a centuries-old beef with the Catholic church (or something like that). Since so little is known about the Illuminati, no one could possibly begin to know how to find this trail. No one, that is, except ROBERT LANGON!

Hanks portrays ace "symbologist" Langon as a smug know-it-all who may or may not be aware of what a condensing prick he comes off as to pretty much everyone he interacts with in the movie. My big problem -- and this is more of a writing / directing thing -- is that he and his comely female sidekick (the stunning Ayelet Zurer) will begin to decode a mystery, and before you even start to have any idea what they're talking about, they've arrived at the answer, and are racing off toward it. It's like they're flooding you with factoids in the interest of showing off how well the screenwriters can use Wikipedia.

After the bad guys run out of Cardinals, their plan is to detonate an anti-matter bomb (don't ask) at midnight, wiping out virtually all of Vatican City. And so... our heroes basically need to run around recreating the storyline from Die Hard With A Vengence, but with a lot of Catholic shit and art history mixed in. Without giving anything away, the last part of the movie attempts a big God vs. Science debate. I guess they thought it'd be powerful or something. The movie does work as an above average thriller, however, and it is masterful at evoking the right amount of tension when needed.

The other big problem I would point out to you is this: The evil doers are going to a lot of trouble to kill these potential Popes at places of historical (albeit secret) significance, but then they're going to blow up everything anyway. The bodies would never have been found had Robert Langdon not stumbled into the mix, so what was the point? It is supposed to be an intellectual game of cat-and-mouse, but who would the mastermind be matching wits with had someone not randomly decided to bring in Langdon? Another annoying thing is that Langdon seems to have a gift for consistently showing up right at the exact moment a Cardinal is about to be killed. He also has a habit of dramatically shouting out the name of something that's clearly visible to everyone on screen and to the audience: "It's a pentagram!" Shades of Dan Brown's influence?

The flick was made by Ron Howard, whose pictures always have a highly professional sheen, but often lack any personality or soul. The bludgeoning score was composed by Hans Zimmer, whose music I would describe the exact same way. The two are perfectly suited to work with each other. Both turn in well-made, middle-of-road work. It is like inoffensive adult contemporary jazz, really: It's not bad, but it's not especially good ether.

My review of National Treasure 2: Book Of Secrets

My review of Frost/Nixon

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