Thursday, 4 June 2009

Angels and Demons Review

OK so it’s no act of divine intervention but Ron Howard’s Angels and Demons marks a considerable improvement on his wretched Da Vinci Code (a film experience that invites comparison to having an enema). The Roman Catholic Church voiced then revoked dissent it in realisation that the film is pure Hollywood fluff, nothing more (and thereby telling more about the film than any review could).

Recognising Dan Brown’s prequel to Da Vinci (although it’s a sequel on-screen) as nothing more than the enjoyable airport trash it is, Howard sensibly foregrounds the suspense and action this time. With brilliant use of the lavish Rome locations (although all the Vatican scenes were impressively done on-set), the film feels, without ever labouring it, on a grander and more portentous scale.

Devoid of the road kill mullet, a trim Tom Hanks is clearly more comfortable this time round, reprising the role of Professor Robert Langdon. This time the archival Indiana Jones is urgently summoned to Vatican City where the present Pope has passed away and the bishops are about to seal themselves in Conclave.

One problem: the so-called ‘God Particle’ has been stolen from the CERN laboratory in Geneva and planted somewhere in the Vatican. Evidence points to the secret society the Illuminati, who have come for revenge on the church after a history of persecution. Should it go off, the entire city will be decimated, and only a hidden trail through Rome will lead Langdon to the device and four soon-to-be-executed cardinals.

Howard stages Demons as a much pacier beast, charging past the frescoes, churches, fountains and statues of Rome with doomsday ticking down on the horizon. Of course this isn’t going to be mistaken for high drama any time in the future: Brown’s dunderheaded dialogue (i.e. everyone says everything out loud all the time) is a constant ball and chain around the ankles of the talented cast (there can never be too many helpfully pointy statues in the world of Hollywood) and it would be wise to credit the audience with more intelligence without having to always resort to exposition.

At least in this story we’re spared from perky Audrey Tatou miscasting. Instead, the more authoritative Ayelet Zurer as Vittoria Vetra, under whose nose the anti-matter was stolen, is on the same page as Langdon, keeping pace both physically and intellectually (although chemistry is inevitably non-existent). Ewan McGregor, for once, is used well in a big budget feature as the young Camerlengo struggling to assert his authority, although he himself struggles with a wobbly accent (those from Ulster will giggle incessantly). Stellan Skarsgard and Armin Mueller Stahl do the ambivalent European thing (if they have a foreign accent, they must be shifty).

Hans Zimmer’s thrilling score screaming bombast reveals the grand aspirations of this large scale thriller, although it never takes flight as it should (it’s a shame more daft puns weren’t injected into the movie for levity). However there is one final, albeit unintentional, joke: for all the church’s pessimism, it turns out to be ill-founded. The film’s ongoing theoretical battle between science and religion, rather poignantly (and with more than a hint of irony), sees faith as the one coming out smelling of roses.

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