Dan Brown’s book Angels & Demons is a better read than his big hit The Da Vinci Code.
Its downfall is one of the dumbest climaxes I’ve ever read. Thankfully, director Ron Howard and screenwriters David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman spare us. They delete it from the movie version, and opt for a better, more believable ending.
Too bad they didn’t extend that effort to the rest of the movie.
The Da Vinci Code prequel done as a sequel contains complex themes familiar to Brown’s fans. However, missing from Angels & Demons is Brown’s plot-cementing detailed, but controversial, references to history and historical documents.
Howard plops the basics out in Cliffs Notes chunks that suck the life out of an anemic movie storyline in desperate need of Brown’s depth and direction.
And Howard again wastes the talents of a miscast Tom Hanks whose only real noticeable contribution to the flick is sporting a shorter, but much not-much better-looking hairdo than he had in The Da Vinci Code.
At a conclave to elect a new pope, symbologist Robert Langdon (Hanks) is called to Rome. He has a few hours to save four kidnapped cardinals threatened with death by the Illuminati. The reason given for the crime is ancient disagreements over science vs. God that forced the long-thought extinct Illuminati to go underground.
To punctuate the point, the group steals a canister of anti-matter and hides it in the catacombs of the Eternal City. After the cardinals are killed one at a time — kaboom. No more Rome, no more church.
The great scientist Galileo Galilei was a member of the Illuminati. Hints on how to find the cardinals are hidden in his writings stored in the Vatican archives. Langdon and the film’s characters use those clues to do a mad and plot-muddy dash through Rome to save the Eternal City and the cardinals.
Helping in the quest is Ewan McGregor’s Camerlengo Patrick McKenna who is in charge of the church while the cardinals elect a new leader. In the book, he’s larger-than-life, quietly heroic and a great character. Angels & Demons give him zero to do other than throwing out a line once in awhile designed to give clues that only have meaning to the characters.
This is the first of the film’s fatal flaws. Mysteries work best when the audience is involved and has a chance to solve the puzzle along with the characters. If you even get Angels and Demon’s plot-solving hints, they are heavy-handed and not that compelling.
Flaw two: Hanks and his co-stars are akin to marionettes. Characters should flow through life and not feel like they’re hung from strings to be moved to certain places at specific times.
Flaw three: In one scene, Hanks’ Langdon needs to read one of Galileo’s documents. He’s an expert in Catholic Church history and doesn’t read Italian? And why choose Langdon? Doesn’t the church have its own history and Galilean experts?
If pressed, Howard could blame the Vatican for the plot’s problems. He claims it may have used its influence to “conspire” to hinder aspects of the filming. The Church apparently sees the themes as anti-Catholic.
I’m not sure about anti-Catholic, but church officials could make a strong case for anti-good filmmaking.
Not that it anti-matters.
Mr. Movie rating: 1 1/2 stars
Rated PG-13 for mature themes, some violence. It opens Friday, May 15 at the Carmike 12 and at the Fairchild Cinemas 12.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.