Angels & Demons (2009): “Vatican City will be consumed by light.”

AD_INTL_1SHT_GLOW_2Consumed by light? More like consumed by trite… storylines. That’s right, I went there. Ron Howard’s Angels & Demons (2009) is the second film that follows the adventures of Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), a professor of ‘symbology’ from Harvard University. In this film, Langdon is brought to the Vatican to solve a mysterious mystery that involves the Illuminati; a mystery that threatens the very foundations of the Catholic church.

Since working in a bookshop, I’ve developed a really strong sense of revulsion for Dan Brown’s books. Mostly due to the poor writing, and also due to the clear adolescent fanfiction-style fantasy in which the author imagines themselves as the main character. Recently, after finishing one of my favourite books of all time, I needed something to read on the train that would cleanse my reading palate and remind me that my standards for books shouldn’t be high all the time. Long story short, I decided to read Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons, hoping for it to maybe remind me of my fun Roman holiday from a couple of years ago where I spent a bit of time in Vatican City. It wasn’t a good book. So naturally, I decided to watch the film to see how the adaptation stacked up. It wasn’t good either.

However, if you’re looking for a mindless adventure movie, this isn’t a bad one. You can just shut your mind off and follow Robert Langdon’s symbology adventures, and all of the solutions are given to you. You don’t even have to think about anything. It’s the ultimate muscle relaxant for the brain. But if you look into this one a bit more deeply, the problems begin to stack up.

Tom Hanks is a great actor and I really liked his performance in Captain Phillips (2013). But this is not his best work. The way he acts as Robert Langdon makes you wonder whether he despises himself for doing these films. Ewan McGregor is in this too, as the late Pope’s camerlengo (a Papal middle manager of sorts). He is mediocre. I can’t think of anything I’ve liked him in since watching Beginners (2010), so I’m hoping his performance in August: Osage County (2013) will be good.

The computer animation is horrible. I understand that the Vatican said a big fat “no thank you” when the idea of filming this on location was proposed, which is fair enough. But if you’re going to pretend that the characters are somewhere significant, at least try hard enough to make the graphics and animation look plausible. There was one scene where the characters are meant to be inside St Peter’s Basilica, and while the point of view is moving, the graphics make it look like Langdon and his lady friend Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer) are walking on the spot. It looks like they’re in a video game from the early 2000s. That’s just unforgivable for a big budget movie made in 2009.

The character development is also horrible. Robert Langdon is the shell of a person. Vittoria is barely even a character. She gets some screen time at the beginning of the film, but beyond that, she’s just as much of a shell as Langdon is. Ewan McGregor’s camerlengo character is a tough one because you get the feeling that there is a backstory to him, but you never learn anything about him that would make his actions significant enough to be anything more than annoying. And the villain, who is meant to be very threatening, is such a non-event that I almost forgot to mention him in this review. Forgettable is the key word for many things about this film.

The plot is poorly developed, and completely obvious from the beginning. The exposition is also beyond ridiculous. Why would a non-Italian person explain Italian words to an Italian person? Why would one cardinal ever remind another cardinal about the rules of the Papal conclave when they both are clearly aware of the rules under which they operate?

The saddest thing about Angels & Demons is that for an adventure film that is essentially an artistic and historical treasure hunt, there is no sense of hunt, nor of adventure. As aforementioned, the solutions are delivered to the characters in such a simplistic way that it’s at the expense of any excitement. Any threat of conflict or potential failure is pretty much written off by the end of the first quarter of the film. If I’m not mistaken, the best part about a treasure hunt is the hunt itself. The excitement is gone when the main character knows everything already and the audience can’t go on a hunt with them beyond looking in a library for five minutes. Hence, the story seems poorly developed and rushed. I didn’t love The Da Vinci Code (2006) as a film, but it had much more of a sense of discovery and excitement than this one.

Also (final point on the bad things in this film), for a film that’s meant to be all about the significance of art history and symbolism, the camera sure did skip right over the art in question. As the viewer, you know that certain sculptures and fountains are very significant to the plot. But you never get the chance to get a good look at the art because the camera pans right over it really quickly. I would have loved the chance to get a good look at certain pieces of sculpture in this film, but alas, it looks like I’ll have to resort to Googling them.

What I did like about Angels & Demons: The make-up artistry was quite good. There was one ‘reveal’ scene where the special effects on a deceased individual’s face were very impressive. There was also one moment where the cinematography was excellent, and this was during another ‘reveal’ moment in the Sistine Chapel toward the end of the film. All those red cardinal caps make for some very menacing shots, that’s all I’ll say.

I have to take a deep breath before this final paragraph. I’m about to admit something that goes against everything I know as someone who works in a bookshop and has a deep respect for the literary arts. Dan Brown’s book is better than this movie adaptation. There, I said it. The book is stupid and dumb, but it’s still better than the film. Still, if I had a hangover and Angels & Demons was being shown on television, I probably wouldn’t change the channel.

1.5/5
Watch the trailer here.

Watch this film at Amazon!

25 comments

  1. Great review!

    I, unlike you, have enjoyed Dan Brown’s books, but I agree that so far, they have done terrible jobs adapting them to the screen.

    1. Thanks! Yeah, I think they tried to over-simplify the story at the expense of the intriguing bits. Even though I didn’t like the book as a whole, they cut out the bits that I actually did like!

  2. I avoided both the books and films. Great review.

    1. Excellent choice. 😉

  3. Great review.

    And agreed, both on the books’ quality and on this movie. It’s not good. Basically every aspect of it is bad. The shame of it is that it’s actually better than the film version of The Da Vinci Code.

    1. Thanks! It’s just bad. The film is trying to be controversial at the same time as being totally neutered. I really did like that one moment of cinematography though!

  4. I don’t hate Dan Brown as much as you (Deception Point is a fantastic read), but I have to admit the book of Angels and Demons was a terrible one. The moment where Langdon jumps out of airplane stank of ‘writing yourself into a corner’. The film was always going to fail from the start. Good review. You capture the awfulness of the film well.

    1. Thank you, that’s the ultimate compliment! I lost it when he jumped out of the helicopter and used a hand-held tarp as a parachute in the book. Just ridiculous. I was waiting to see if they would attempt to pull that off in the film, but I’m glad they didn’t.

  5. I agree entirely, I saw this in the cinema when it came out and it is sooooooo bad. Cringeworthy in the extreme.

    1. There’s a big romantic relationship between Langdon and Vittoria in the book, it would have been so much more cringeworthy if they included that in the film, since there is little to no character development. I just wish they’d shown more of the art, that was what I was really looking forward to!

  6. I’m not a huge Dan Brown fan at all, but I felt like there was a chance to make them into better movies. The first one was okay, if a little dull. Angels and Demons is just awful. There’s so little to like in it, and even Hanks seems lost.

    1. Totally agreed, they had the opportunity to make it really interesting. But no dice!

  7. Nice review. So sad to see Tom Hanks as a shell of a character, he’s deserves better.

    1. He sure does! I just read that they’re making a third film from another Dan Brown book. So I hope they get their act together for that one.

  8. I completely agree with weak characterization, etc. I thought Angels and Demons was an alright book if you didn’t try and take it too seriously, but Brown is a substandard writer at best. I always feel he is the main character he writes about – the man he wishes to be. I refused point blank to watch these movies. I tried Da Vinci Code three times and called it quits, and this one I got fifteen minutes into then threw in the towel. It was just dreadful.

    1. It’s funny that you say Dan Brown is the character he writes about – he’s always describing Robert Langdon as wearing tweed jackets and smart jumpers, and when you Google Dan Brown to see what he looks like, that’s exactly what he’s wearing all the time! Seems like such an obvious self-insertion that it makes me roll my eyes every time.

      1. So glad to see it isn’t just me. It’s like he writes about the man he wishes he could be!

  9. Interesting and insightful review. I never had an interest in watching this or The Da Vinci Code either, since I don’t really read books these films would have been the only alternative for me. However they just didn’t seem like my kind of films so I avoided them. I remember all the bad reviews this film got back in 2009 and I’m glad I steered clear from it from the sounds of your review.

    Luckily I’ve never experienced a bad Tom Hanks film and the fact that you don’t really like Ewan McGregor just hurts me lol, he is a fine actor, I take it you’ve never seen more of his better filmography, I could name a good few films where he is brilliant.

    1. Haha, you’re definitely lucky you steered clear of it! I’ve loved Ewan McGregor’s work in the past, but recently (i.e. post 2010’s Beginners) I haven’t been too happy with him. Then again, I’ve been watching his travel series’ Long Way Down and Long Way Round and have loved him in those. Maybe I just like him way more when he’s not acting!

  10. YES! This movie is awful. It marks the ONLY TIME I have fallen asleep while at the movie theater. So, luckily, I don’t remember that much of it.

    1. Haha! The only time I’ve fallen asleep at the movie theatre was during the middle third of Inception and I felt really bad about it.

  11. I’m pretty sure Tom Hanks would have regretted signing on to a second Dan Brown movie as soon as he read the script – it was poor. But he is GREAT as Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks – he provides the perfect partner to Emma Thompson’s grumpy, miserable P. L Travers.

    1. Unfortunately he’s up for a third film as Robert Langdon, so hopefully the script is much better and he’s able to show a bit more skill!

  12. […] 14th century poem exploring a man’s journey through Hell. Unlike The Da Vinci Code (2006) and Angels and Demons (2009), I hadn’t read Dan Brown’s book on which this film is based before actually […]

  13. […] but I am highly interested in the happenings of the Vatican (hence why I couldn’t 100% hate Angels & Demons (2012), because at least the Vatican is interesting), and the art, architecture and general beauty […]

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