From the Editor

Movie Review Archive

Thank you for checking out my movie review archive. I'm in the process of transitioning to something else, so I will no longer post new reviews to this blog. In the meantime, I will keep these reviews archived; these are from the fall of 2008 to April 2011. Please watch this blog for more info and keep in touch (you can still find me on Facebook and Twitter). Here's to more great movies!

Wes Singleton

North Texas Film Critics Association

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Angels and Demons - B

Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, disturbing images and thematic material, 138 minutes

The swiftly entertaining Angels and Demons is better than The DaVinci Code

To quote none other than Gomer Pyle: Surprise, surprise, surprise. That could well sum up the description of Ron Howard’s exciting new thriller Angels and Demons, the sequel to the 2006 mega hit The DaVinci Code, which brought people in with its controversial story then bored them to death in the process. Overlong but engaging, Angels and Demons’ church-based conspiracy storyline is considerably less controversial than DaVinci but surprisingly better on many levels: it’s far more entertaining, briskly paced and action-packed. Even Gomer could find something to enjoy in Opie’s latest production.

Dan Brown’s book Angels and Demons was actually written and set before DaVinci but since it was far more popular it hit screens first. After its tremendous worldwide box-office success, director Howard decided to turn A&D into a sequel to DaVinci, since both featured the same lead character, Harvard Professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks).

Angels and Demons finds the Catholic Church in a state of change following the death of the Pope. In addition, the murder of a physicist, Leonardo Vetra, finds Professor (and symbolist) Langdon (Hanks), and Mr. Vetra’s daughter, Vittoria (Hebrew actress Ayelet Zurer), on a mission to uncover clues about an old and highly secretive organization, The Illuminati, which now has in its hands a destructive weapon that could wipe out the Vatican and most of Rome.

Clues lead them all around the Vatican, including the four alters of science, Earth, Air, Fire and Water. An Assassin (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), working for the Illuminati, has captured four cardinals, and is set to murder each painfully. Meanwhile, the Church is in the process of selecting a new Pope, with a powerful Camerlengo (Ewan McGregor) with papal motives, not to mention the strong arm of the Vatican law and Commander of the Swiss Army (Stellan Skaarsgard), who gets his way most of the time. With both scientific and spiritual forces clashing, Robert and Vittoria must race against time in a single day to save Rome from destruction physically and spiritually.

Angels and Demons is an energetic and entertaining though overlong spectacle that pops with intensity and action and a terrific cast. Howard and company must have learned something valuable from DaVinci, as in cut the long, blathering speeches, tone down the controversy and amp up the action. Set in Rome with much of the action occurring in less than a day, it moves along very nimbly, even with a hokey, ridiculous but enjoyable climax in St. Peters Square in Rome.

Howard’s big, expensive production shows on screen but is handsomely filmed, with a story that is faithful to the tone of the book and keeping with its quick pace. DaVinci scribe Akiva Goldsman, and Indy 4 screenwriter David Koepp, have greatly simplified Brown’s seemingly complex narrative, trimming sections and changing characters to fit its rapid, athletic conspiratorial plot (let’s just say they do lots and lots of running here). Howard directs A&D’s narrative with a smooth, taut flow and is essentially a high-level scavenger hunt as it moves from one ancient church to the next uncovering clues to the conspiracy.

Speaking of which, the most impressive thing about Angels and Demons is that much of the action was actually filmed on the Sony back lot. Ancient landmarks St. Peters Square, the Cistene Chapel, the Fountain of the Four Rivers and more are all astonishingly recreated in detail, a necessity given that the Catholic Church, still upset over DaVinci‘s provocative plotline, refused to let them film in these actual locations. The first-rate Oscar-worthy production and set design, along with Hans Zimmer’s stirring orchestral music lend an auspicious credibility to the fictionalized story.

As for Hanks, he carries the movie with aplomb with his usual likable performance; fortunately, the creepy/annoying mullet hair from DaVinci is trimmed here. He is also well-paired with the stunningly beautiful Zurer, a stronger and more compelling heroine than DaVinci’s bland Audrey Tatou. Skaarsgard (Good Will Hunting) is always hammy fun to watch, while sturdy character actor Armin Mueller-Stahl (Shine) has a few good low-key moments in a small role as a soft-spoken Cardinal. Macgregor (Moulin Rouge) throws the movie off-kilter, but only because the talented actor is miscast (he’s far too young and should be Italian) in the film’s key role.

The movie is about 20 minutes too long and Howard could’ve accomplished far more with less, tightening some situations and resolving its plot far more expeditiously. Even with that - count your blessings - Angels and Demons is recommended and does something DaVinci didn’t do: entertain.