Directed by Ron Howard
Written by David Koepp and Akiva Goldsmith
Starring Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, and Ayelet Zurer
What is the motivation of Robert Langdon? Who is he? Do I need to read the book to know for sure? In this film we know that he is portrayed by Tom Hanks. Is that enough? Is it enough that he is smart and makes jokes from time to time? We don't know why he accepts the task to come to the aid of the Vatican except that he is interested in solving a puzzle for them. Still why does he put his life on the line for them?
It's important to know the answers to these questions because without them we are just following plot points. Unfortunately, the film doesn't answer them so all we are doing is following plot points. There is nothing for the audience to be interested in aside from seeing what happens next. If you aren't interested in that then there is not much else in this film for you.
Angels and Demons is the sequel to the Da Vinci Code (2006). Both films were based on the Dan Brown novels of the same name. This film revolves around both the selection of a new Pope and the discovery of antimatter. It's is about the classic clash between religion and science. Essentially the film is about how religion is intimidated and scared of advances in science and how science will not be stopped. It could be interesting but in the hands of Ron Howard it just comes down to a paint by numbers thriller.
The film opens with the death of the Pope and as the Vatican meets to select the new one villainous forces prepare to make them pay for their crack down on science. A shadowy character who from here on I will refer to as the "Boogie Man" steals antimatter and plans to use it to destroy the Vatican. Robert Langdon is called in to stop him by trying to decipher the mysterious symbols the "Boogie Man" is using to commit his crimes. While watching the film I often wondered why he just didn't use the antimatter to complete his task. Did he really have to taunt them? It seemed like by doing that he just made it become more and more possible for his scheme to be foiled.
Of course if he didn't do that then we wouldn't have a story. Not that we have much of one anyway. All the standard thriller movie characters are used. We have our hero, we have a girl, we have the before mentioned "Boogie Man," we have the guy who helps out, and we have the police chief who gets in the way of the heroes' task. We have all the standard twist and turns. The film follows the formula to the letter.
The actors don't really have much else to do in this film. All they really have to do is play their character type and they don't try for much else. They go where the story leads them and act the way they need to act. They serve the story and that is all you can really say for them. I'm not saying that they were bad in their roles, they just were very adequate in them.
As I mentioned the film is directed by Ron Howard. Howard is a good director. He doesn't really challenge his audience as much as he serves the story. He is very good at delivering exactly what is asked of him. If the story is great he can give us a film like Apollo 13 or Cinderella Man. If they story is fair he can give us Ransom or Backdraft. This past year he directed Frost/Nixon. That film never really resonated with me because he didn't tell me about the two characters, he just took them through the motions. He followed the story to the letter and I never connected with them. The same thing is happening with this film. He just followed the story and didn't do anything with it. I'm not accusing him of being a bad director at all, he is actually quite good. He just gives you whatever the story gives him.
That isn't to say that I wasn't entertained by Angels and Demons. For awhile I did get caught up in the story but it couldn't keep me hooked for 2 hours and 20 minutes. After about an hour I had lost interested in what was happening. It didn't deliver any surprises and all the twist felt manufactured.
I do want to give credit to Cinematographer Salvatore Totino. In one beautifully shot scene he uses light to reveal the motivations of the characters and foreshadow their actions. This is as closes as the film came to engaging me. I don't want to go into too much as it will give away the ending but it is beautiful and deserves to be applauded. This scene also gives us our greatest insight into Langdon's character as he answers a question about his belief in God. It's a very authentic answer to the question and had me longing for more insight.
In the end Angels and Demons plays it safe by simply presenting the story from beginning to end. It might make for good pop literature but it doesn't translate to an exciting film. It just is what it is and is nothing more.