Thursday, May 21, 2009

'Angels and Demon' is a bloated bore

For a movie about attempting to prevent the murder of four cardinals and the destruction of Vatican City, "Angels and Demons," the sequel to 2006's "The Da Vinci Code," is, dare I say, boring.

"Angels and Demons" is another adventure featuring author Dan Brown's symbologist Robert Langdon. The book took place before "The Da Vinci Code," but on film it takes place after. Not that it really matters either way.

"The Da Vinci Code" as a film was largely dismissed by critics, but audiences didn't seem to care as it made more than $750 million at the box office worldwide. There truly is no accounting for taste.

I enjoyed "The Da Vinci Code" as I was watching it but it didn't linger in my mind.
Three years later it is barely there. It wasn't a terrible film, but it wasn't a particularly great one either. It had middling entertainment value in unraveling the mystery, but was overlong and poorly paced. If it wasn't for the fine actors, the film would've been an ordeal to sit through. The same criticism applies for "Angels and Demons."

Tom Hanks returns as Langdon as does director Ron Howard, but they haven't learned from their mistakes from the first time around, or perhaps they are willingly repeating them, since after all you don't want to mess with a $750 million winning formula.

The plot involves a vengeful science-based organization called the Illuminati, who were terribly wronged in one of the darker corners of Catholic Church’s past. Now on the eve of the naming of a new pope, the group is back to kill the pope's four possible successors in an ancient ritual. Oh, and they're going to blow up the Vatican for good measure. Langdon, an expert on the Illuminati, is brought in to save the day.

This should be the set up for an exciting film, especially since there is a one-hour deadline to save each cardinal, but the execution is all wrong. Too much time is spent with Hanks casually explaining the various clues and the history behind them. There's no sense of the urgency of the deadlines.

Furthermore, the film sets up a formula: find a clue, figure out the clue, get to the designated location at the last minute, find the next clue, and so on. Will Langdon and his fetching female assistant (this time played by Ayelet Zurer) make it in time? It becomes repetitive and ultimately numbing.

There's little to no suspense, although a booming score from Hans Zimmer comes clamoring in during all the supposedly exciting parts to tell you it is time to be excited even though there is very little on the screen to be thrilled about.

There are things to admire about "Angels and Demons" including some well placed jabs at the media that get a laugh and help to break up the monotony. It also has a uniformly strong cast that helps keep the film watchable.

Hanks is an innately likable performer and he does his best to get through wordy monologues on par with a mediocre high school history lesson. Ewan McGregor as the former pope's aid is particularly strong as an open-minded man of God with a big heart.

Familiar faces like Stellan SkarsgÄrd ("Pirates of the Caribbean") and Armin Mueller-Stahl ("The International," "Eastern Promises") add a necessary level of credibility to a film that is anything but.

The film does feature a thoughtful discussion of faith and science and whether they can co-exist. For all the bloody murders and pyrotechnics, this is easily the most interesting aspect of the film and so welcomed and refreshing that it almost compensates for the film's shortcomings.

The same can be said of the ending, which is the only time the film feels emotionally genuine. Unfortunately it comes two hours too late.

Fans of Dan Brown and the film version of "The Da Vinci Code" are likely to enjoy this installment, but non-believers will not be converted.

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