Angels & Demons is like watching Juno. Like that overrated mess from 2007, Ron Howard’s latest film wants to be more than it really is. No one told it that at the end of the day it’s just Indiana Jones with some Bourne sprinkled in. The script tries to mask it’s many shortcomings in religious mumbo-jumbo to make us forget we’re watching an otherwise boring, meandering, and bland film. It’s not poorly made, nor is it the worst film of the year. It speeds down Mario Raceway only to miss that last power-up that would elevate it to second place.
Maybe it’s Tom Hanks’ very unengaged portrayal of Robert Langdon. That’s really depressing because it isn’t like Hanks isn’t at the top of his game, he just doesn’t give life to Robert Langdon. Where a flimsy story can be forgiven if the lead is charismatic and takes the film on his shoulders (i.e. – Iron Man), Hanks believes Langdon to be as boring as the audience does. He seems afraid to give any sort of wit, charm, or just plain fun to the character. Lines such as "Fellas…you called me," are delivered like they’re being read off a cue card. It’s not totally Hanks’ fault, the filmmakers give us no reason to be emotionally invested Langdon. By contrast, Ewan McGregor is probably the best thing about the movie. He does a great job with what he’s given and handles Patrick McKenna as a passionate individual. He has a certain charm to him that Hanks lacks to the point you almost root for McKenna over Langdon. The other supporters seem to follow Hanks’ lead and are just as bland as he is. Stellan Skarsgaard is playing the clichÃ© angry super agent who’s only purpose is getting in the way of the hero. Ayelet Zurer seems confused as Vittoria as she can’t decide if she wants to be smart, then cute or cute, then smart.
None of the actors should really be blamed as the script gives them almost nothing to do but stand around like helpless idiots. Written by Akiva Goldsman and David Koepp (please, try to hold in all excitement), this screenplay seems to follow the National Treasure structure. An action scene happens, explanation about the Catholic Church, more action, more explaining and you get the picture. If it’s not over-explaining every detail about Catholicism, it’s giving the characters silly things to do that serve no purpose. It also should be noted that while the Vatican has made vast improvements in technology, and the film is based around the Large Hardon Collider yet no one has heard of GPS. Many times Langdon announces "We have to go that way," which one character asks "How do we get there?". No one thinks to whip out their Sony Ericsson phones and try to find the location, but rather pretend to be a married couple to find the next location. Goldsman and Koepp’s main fault is thinking they’ve given us "smart entertainment". This movie wants to be intellegent, thinks it is and isn’t. It also has the same misconceptions about being entertaining. The movie is really just laughable when you give it thought, which is probably why Goldsman and Koepp drown you in religious babble. Lines are spewed out that serve no purpose to the story and some even evoke unintentional laughter. "It’s a pentagram," proclaims Langdon after uncovering the symbol on the floor. This would work, assuming we hadn’t seen the symbol around fifteen times beforehand.
Ron Howard is very hit and miss with me, but he does a formidable job here making Rome come to life. If the film were to be judged on it’s photography alone I’d consider it one of the best of the year. It’s well documented how the Vatican wouldn’t let them shoot on their grounds but what Howard and company did is convincing enough to folks who’ve never been there. The movie certainly has scope, but like the writers, Howard does things unintentionally hilarious. Much has been made of the helicopter scene and it’s still in tact, with maybe a touch of modifications. It was at this point I thought the film wanted to be a Looney Tunes cartoon so I burst into a nice stream of laughter. This scene happened to be one of the times the uneven CGI reared it’s ugly head onto the screen. Other times, when the CGI is giving us a sweeping shot of Vatican City and flooding the streets with people it’s flawless. When it comes ot the helicopter scene and a couple of other sequences, you’re better off watching "Hillbilly Hare".
For all of this though, I did take away something from some of the intriguing ideas. If I get a little preachy here I apologize but the film ironically shares a belief I’ve pondered when it comes to church and science. The movie suggests that church and science are one and the same, but share different ideas when it comes down to where things came from. It’s highly probable that stuff like The Big Bang Theory could be orchestrated by God or whichever Deity one believes in. The problem is neither the science nor church want to admit that one might be right especially when Christians go by the book (personally, the Bible has stories that are about bettering ourselves) or that science needs fact for God to exist. Both sides should probably give a little more, and take a little less.
And that would be a great topic for discussion if the film were more than what it is. It wants to be, but no one tries to make it anything memorable other than a reason for the Catholic Church to be angered. I never saw or cared to see The Da Vinci Code but was willing to give this a shot because the trailer intrigued me. While Angels & Demons well made and not terrible, it’s also bland, laughable and boring. It has some nice ideas, but never capitalizes on the chance to use them. At the end of the day, you have to wonder what would happen if Robert Langdon wasn’t in the story.