“Angels and Demons” holds a niche position in one kind of movie watching hell. I could not let my mind wander while watching it and still follow the tangled intricacies of Robert Langdon’s fascinating professors tour of Rome and simultaneously, I really wanted my mind to wander. So “Angels And Demons”, as directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks definitely has some interesting things to offer. It obviously has Tom Hanks, who is always a pleasure to watch. Tom is practically dripping with personal integrity. It’s just not about the roles Tom has played through the years, going from good guy to good guy, it’s about the Tom inside. Some actors can skillfully portray a character but be unable to shield from us their inner workings. Tom Hanks is too honest not to add a slice of himself to every character he plays.
Dan Brown is a writer of great success who can really write a synopsis. There are two engines of writing. There is the story and then the process of writing it. Like with the book, the movie can’t finish what the original idea started. There’s a ton of great ideas floating around in Angels and Demons. Dan Brown has to be given credit for bringing together some fascinating real and probably unreal legends and lore. Dan’s plot required that Ron Howard jam a lot of chatty detail into Angels and Demons. Much of the detail is interesting. Modern movie goers and maybe this reviewer have lost the ability to listen to a movie these days. We want to watch but not to concentrate. While Angels and Demons moves along better than the movie adaptation of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code did, there is a minimum of detail required to understand the history and story. Tom Hanks talks pretty fast but this is not a narrative you can skim through.
Center to the intrigue in Angels is the ancient battle between the Catholic Church and the maybe mythical organization called the Illuminati. The Illuminati was formed from scientists and scholars who were driven underground hundreds of years ago when science wasn’t nearly as cool as it is today. Science and progress is always a threat to institutions that run on ritual and so many scientists, including the astronomer Galileo, were either forced to recant their views or were outright murdered.
So the Illuminati are pretty unhappy and bring their grudge to modern day Rome where they apparently want to get even quick with a bomb made of really geeky antimater, stolen from the Large Hadron Collider.
The Vatican and the city of Rome are really fascinating places. They are jammed packed with unbelievably beautiful churches and castles and also of dark and hidden places, secret passages, skull lined floors and thousands of years of real mystery. Rome and the Vatican are so over the top magnificent and creepy that the secret society of the Illuminati and their ancient beef with the Church seem no less plausible than that man could build a city so full of images and structures of beauty and death.
Robert Langdon has a trail of clues to follow and very little time to follow them. We get to know a ton of Vatican rules and regulations. Latin is thrown around as if by itself it can fill the holes in the plot. I am almost convinced. Armin Mueller-Stael as the red robed Cardinal Strauss is transparently set up for epic evil but instead in the end is simply a demon of the political kind and Ewan McGregor plays the Camerlengo, a kind of personal assistant to the Pope, who is saintly in the old school fashion.
Angels and Demons commits the gross movie sin of having the plot and characters ultimately not honestly landing where they were aimed. There’s twist for twists sake. There is nothing wrong with the audience figuring out how a movie is going to end and who the bad guys are. It’s wrong to figure it out and then have everything you’ve been shown and told be twisted off the rails for the sake of a surprise ending. While watching Angels and Demons, I could feel that there was a twist coming. It was plainly apparent. Because of this, I could not take the characters in the movie at face value as they were portrayed, with the exception of Tom Hank’s Robert Langdon, who must remain a pillar of truth for anything to work. I knew that many of the characters in the movie were not going to arrive in places honestly that the narrative was leading them. If Angels and Demons had finished telling the more than interesting story that it had set out to tell, we would have had a scholarly but facinating and especially honorable movie to watch.