Slate Magazine‘s Dana Stevens doesn’t think much of Angels & Demons (2009, Ron Howard). In her review, she says that “instead of having Hanks and his love interest stand around in a series of dusty churches,” Director Ron Howard “has them rush really fast through a series of dusty churches.” A.O. Scott, in his critique in the New York Times, thought the movie was “not particularly good” and pointed out that its “utter silliness” could be “either its fatal flaw or its saving grace”.
So the big-name film critics essentially dismissed the film adaptation of Robert Langdon’s first adventure as a so-so work, lacking luster when compared to other blockbusters. With that assessment in consideration, I walked into my local mall’s cinema yesterday, popcorn in one hand and Coke in the other, wary that I would be sorely disappointed.
As soon as the story began to unfold, however, I found myself disagreeing with the meager critiques the movie earned. I was only mildly excited about the plot itself largely because I’d already read the novel (although I was interested in how the book would translate into the big screen—would it be how I imagined it to be, or would I be treated to an entirely different interpretation of the novel?). What got me hooked were the subtle nuances to the enchanting and mysterious Vatican City (particularly its well-observed rites of conclave), as well as the astute incorporation of the majesty and splendor of Rome—its Bernini sculptures, Raphael chapels and all. Ron Howard did a good job in making sure that the ancient rites of the conclave—the event around which the entire story revolves—were not neglected in the movie, at the same time keeping the overtones subtle to make way for Langdon and Vetra’s wild dash across Rome. With the sealing of the doors, the registering, canvassing and burning of the ballots, and even the new pope’s donning of his vestments, the film easily wins over those who, such as myself, were drawn to the novel for its sneaky incorporation of ancient Vatican tradition.
What can one make of the mad dashes through Rome’s ancient churches? They’re nothing to rave about, really—unless you’re into gory murders. Throughout most of the chase through the four altars of science, Langdon and Vetra are cruelly one step behind the preferiti‘s assassin, getting to the murder scenes just after the bells ring to mark the hour and just after another cardinal is murdered. After discovering a body, they oddly mill about the scene of the crime for a while before realizing, “Holy crap, we need to look for a clue that’ll lead us to the next altar! Now that we’ve killed some time—time we badly need—by making chitchat in this ancient church, we won’t be able to save the next cardinal from certain doom!” How conveniently to the detriment of the protagonists, one would think, but the discontinuous rush is heinously to the detriment of the moviegoer, too.
I must commend Tom Hanks’ performance in the film. Although I’ve had my qualms about him taking on the symbologist’s role, he portrayed the character quite well. The Robert Langdon of the movie was the Robert Langdon of the novel—a man enthralled in history (watch him bite his finger in excitement as they approach the Vatican archives) and whose eerie cleverness with obscure, well-hidden symbols makes you smirk.
Ayelet Zurer could’ve been more seductive, though. All she did throughout the movie was tail Robert in her conservative outfit (in the book, Vittoria wore skimpy shorts). She wasn’t so much a love interest as she was a sidekick sleuth who spit out facts Langdon already knew about.
Ewan McGregor’s performance as camerlengo was excellent, in my opinion. He was perfect for the role. His simple garments and somewhat diminutive stature made him stand out amidst the sea of flowing red robes. There was a certain resoluteness in his face and in his attitude that underscored the importance of his role, before and after his father’s death: as a faithful chamberlain who stood in the sidelines and as a man of power (if only temporary power) upon whom the Holy See was entrusted.
To sum it up: judging from the relative indifference of many a respected movie critic, Angels & Demons as a movie in itself is nothing more than unremarkable. On the other hand, I think many of those who’ve read the book will enjoy its silverscreen counterpart. Ron Howard did a commendable job at masterfully transferring Dan Brown’s gripping narrative to film, respecting the many clever, little devices that made the novel compelling while implementing his own cinematic wizardry to concoct a stomachable if not applaudable motion picture.
Ancient rituals, a mysterious scientific organization, and a mad dash through the Holy See and the Eternal City—Angels & Demons didn’t fail to please this Dan Brown fan. In spite of the fact that I still can’t quite wrap my head around Robert Langdon being played by Tom Hanks (whatever happened to Harrison Ford in Harris Tweed?), and that they sadly omitted the novel’s final scene from the movie, I nonetheless give Angels & Demons a deantastic A.
The MTRCB gave Angels & Demons an R-13 rating—the same rating they handed to The Da Vinci Code. While I believe that TDVC should’ve been marked PG-13, I understand why they decided to restrict A&D‘s audience. It certainly isn’t for the faint of heart, what with the gorish brandings and gruesome deaths that are as graphic on film as they are in words. Don’t take your kids to see this one, and if you or your companion are a queasy symbology buff or Tom Hanks fan, you might want to consider bringing a sickness bag.