Film Review: Angels and Demons

15/05/09 | Posted by MattPage

Having banished his sacrilegious haircut and dumped Jesus' great great great granddaughter, Tom Hanks returns to our screens as academic turned action figure Robert Langdon. Dan Brown wrote "The Da Vinci Code" after he had already scored a hit with "Angels and Demons", but Sony and director Ron Howard presumably thought that the latter story would make the more popular film. Having established The Da Vinci Code as a hit movie, Howard and co. have taken note of the audience for Brown's religious thrillers and moved swiftly onto Angels and Demons.

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 Hanks returns as Professor Robert Langdon

The surprising thing is that second time around the filmmakers seem to have made a better movie. The Da Vinci Code movie pulled off the difficult feat of being even worse than the novel it was based on. Audrey Tautou’s vacant expression, Ian McKellan’s hammy villain and Tom Hanks’s dodgy mullet accentuated Dan Brown’s clunky dialogue to such an extent that you really had to pay attention to notice just how bad the pacing was as well.

Here things are back on track. Brown’s dialogue is still glaring awful in places, but the screenwriters have seemingly cut out so much of it that they get the pacing back on track as well - at least until the final quarter of an hour. But hacking away much of the book’s needless exposition also seems to have resulted in an adaptation that is much more positive about faith, and even the Catholic church, than Brown’s original novel. The conspiracy theories do pop up of course, but mainly in the first twenty minutes. It’s like once the plot device is set in motion, the whole film breathes a sign of relief. “OK we’ve done the conspiracy theory stuff; now can we get on with the movie?”

Of course much of this opening section is simply untrue, but it seems pretty minor in comparison to what we do know the church did at this time. Yes, the film invents the suppression of the Illuminati - a group of scientists who have now returned to wreck their vengeance - but it’s a drop in the ocean compared to, say, the Spanish Inquisition. Not to mention the openness about, and a clear disapproval of, the darker moments of the church’s past.

In fact the film even has good things to say about faith. When one of the kidnapped Cardinals is told his fate his response is “May God forgive you”, echoing some of Jesus’ last words from the cross. Later on, the Commander of the Pope’s Swiss Guards (Stellan Skarsgård) reminds Langdon. “My church feeds the hungry. My church comforts the sick and dying.” Over the years, the church may have become more powerful, and, at times, abused that power, but it is also full of people struggling to follow the teaching of Jesus.

Perhaps most surprisingly, the film ends with the idea, present throughout, that science and faith need to work together, in part because all humans are flawed. Given the discussion about science and faith that has been so prevalent this year (with the 150 year celebration of Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species”) it’s good to see a blockbuster movie suggest that science and faith can be friends rather than enemies.

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I can’t wait to see this film. I thought that the Da Vinci code didn’t work well as a film.  Also, that essentially Dan Brown was profitering with his choice of material.  But, Angels and Deamons, I think, will make a much better film.  We will see…

#1. By Will on May 20, 2009

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