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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Review: ANGELS & DEMONS


For anyone that enjoys a fantasy thriller, Ron Howard’s Angels & Demons is 100% pure fun and 90% harmless. The movie is set in a mystical and ritualistic world where two ancient organizations have waged a war for more than one thousand years. On one side we have the Vatican, the Holy See of the Catholic Church, and on the other we have the Illuminati, a group of pseudo-scientists who still think earth, wind, fire and water are the only four elements in the periodic table. The Vatican also has Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) and Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer) at their disposal whose knowledge about religion, science, and history prove to be the winning factor.



The final showdown between Church and Illuminati, begins on the day that a popular and progressive Pope dies and antimatter is created in quantities never seen before. How curious that both things happen on the same day. The movie itself plays out very much like a video game: the illuminati have kidnapped four cardinals; they threaten to kill one every hour from 8pm to 11pm; at midnight they will detonate the antimatter to destroy the Vatican and half of Rome. Each murder will conveniently take place in a different church within Rome that will act as a dungeon; there is even one hidden mystery level in which Langdon must rescue another member of the clergy. There is intrigue and many red herrings. Maybe a bit too many red herrings; the most important one at the end felt a bit too much like a Kansas City Shuffle, which unfortunately ends up ruining one of the most interesting characters in the film. But I will not say any more to avoid spoilers. In short the entire plot of Angels & Demons is preposterous, but that is the whole point.

Such a race happens at an amazing breakneck speed and because Angels & Demons is wonderfully edited we do not miss a single second of it. Its production value is also top notch. So good that even after Ron Howard was not allowed by the Church to film in Vatican locations the transitions between the real location in Rome and the set of Vatican grounds is seamless. Such limitation might have actually been good for the movie, since it allowed Howard to take creative liberties, making the Vatican much more ominous and grand than what it is in reality.

The acting… well who needs acting when Rome is going to blow up in less than an hour? Only Ewan McGreggor as the Camerlengo does an inspiring job. The directing… too many close ups and too many wide shots and the image is never held! But how else could we get to appreciate the amazing sights of Rome in a thriller happening at such a pace. We can’t. If anything Ron Howard has learned what he must sacrifice for a better thriller, something he missed in The Da Vinci Code that flows very much like the book.

The movie does a fair job not to argue pro science or pro religion, which is good since it is filled with factual errors on both sides. Just think how religious could the Vatican be if its Cardinals need constant lectures on Church history by Langdon and the Camerlengo? And how scientific can the Illuminati be if they insist on doing all their murders in the most ritualistic of fashions; if you want to destroy the Vatican and get away with it you don’t leave clues all over the place.

Yes I know. And yes I’ve already said it; Angels & Demons is a fantasy thriller. But should we demand some authenticity or merely enjoy entertainment?

3 stars

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