Release Date: May 15
Writer: David Koepp and Akiva
Goldsman, Dan Brown (novel)
Tom Hanks, Ewan
McGregor, Ayelet Zurer, Stellan Skarsgård
Studio/Run Time: Sony Pictures,
Having it both ways in a film that’s
more thrilling than thoughtful
Everyone's favorite symbologist Robert
Langdon is back in Angels & Demons, the sequel to the
inane Da Vinci Code. With a new haircut and graying temples
Tom Hanks looks even more like an insurance agent, but don't let his
unassuming nature fool you. He's more active and focused this time,
and with an impulsive, attractive physicist at his side—one who can
read Latin, perform CPR, and explain antimatter to laymen—no wild
goose could best him in a chase. And these wild geese want very much
to be chased.
symbologist who’s part Sherlock Holmes, part Indiana Jones.
Angels & Demons is better than The
Da Vinci Code in every way but one: It has no Ian McKellen. But given
how they treated his character in the first film, it's probably best
that they not think of an equally harebrained way to bring him back.
The new film is more fun and exciting, and while it requires
steadfast suspension of disbelief, it isn’t quite so dumb. The
first film felt like a heavy-handed stab in the direction of Raiders
of the Lost Arkfrom a film directed by Ron Howard and based on a novel by Dan Brown.
ingenious. Indiana Jones had personality quirks that weren't directly
a part of the plot, and I'm convinced that Jaws is so fondly
remembered precisely because of all the time it spends on
personalities. By contrast, Angels & Demons provides details only
if they propel us toward a specific revelation. An offhand anecdote
about how someone learned to fly helicopters is sure to be important
before the film is over, just as a strangely shaped keyhole will
undoubtedly be engaged by a strangely shaped key, probably one found
in the hand of a dead man.
But I'm impressed with the way Howard
and crew have built and sustained a theme of science versus religion.
In the first film, fear of controversy produced dialogue that sounded
like a committee hashed it out. The new film includes similar
diplomacy, always seeking a balance between religion and science, but
the sensitivity feels far less Fletcherized; each scene is moderately
shaped instead of chewed into mush.
It's moderate, but not subtle. When a
priest whose chest has been branded with an ancient ambigram lies
dying before our hero and his sidekick, the intrepid physicist
attempts pulmonary resuscitation, but it causes blood to spew into
the face of our agnostic symbologist, baptizing him reluctantly in
the blood of ... well just the blood of a near-pope, but the
symbolism is clear. Howard lingers to let it sink in. Then, as if to
sock the viewer in the chin once more, the man finds that his only
option for a fresh shirt and jacket are the priestly vestments
hanging in the john.
Those are the sort of clothes more
comfortably worn by a young up-and-coming priest played by Ewan
McGregor, and when his rag-doll body goes whipping against the
outside of a building for reasons I can't divulge, he’s clearly on
his way to either martyrdom or the papacy, having been anointed by
special effects, ordained by deus ex machina, and blessed beneath a
Spielbergian purple sky. But the filmmakers, fully understanding that
they've created those expectations, send their plot ricocheting with
Scorsese's thoughtful baptisms of Nicolas Cage in Bringing Out the
Dead. Together the two films, one an action thriller in religious
garb and the other a downbeat consideration of public service and
ministry, give the false impression that cinema will always face a
dilemma: to satisfy audience expectations or to probe real ideas
about the human condition. It's the rare film (Hitchcock's Rear
Window comes to mind) that can twist real ideas into an edge-of-your
seat sensation. Howard’s film doesn’t accomplish that, but it’s
a decent thriller. His angels and demons may dance at arms length,
but at least they're in sync with the music.