No angels, no demons, but plenty of facepalm ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

No angels, no demons, but plenty of facepalm

Angels and Demons
My rating:

I'm not a fan of Dan Brown. I read The Da Vinci Code, and the best I can say about it is that it's a page-turner. The writing is lame, the plot is nonsensical, the factual claims are total bullshit, and it panders to the worst conspiracy-theory-loving impulses in all of us. I didn't bother to watch the movie. To me, Brown embodies perhaps the widest gulf between talent and success in modern popular culture.

Yes, I'm biased. You have thus been warned to take this review with that in mind.

Harvard professor of "symbology" Robert Langdon is brought to Vatican City on the eve of the appointment of a new Pope to assist on a matter of great urgency - four of the most favourite candidates have been kidnapped, and the kidnapper who claims to be part of the secret society of Illuminati has promised to murder one every hour via the four elements of earth, air, fire and water. He is also threatening to destroy the city using antimatter, a substance created by, and stolen from, an experiment in which physicist Vittoria Vetra was part of. She and Langdon must solve the riddles of the Illuminati and save the city, as they are alternately aided and hindered by Camerlengo Patrick McKenna, the "acting" pontiff, and Commander Richter, head of the Swiss Guard.

So there's a lot of running around, a lot of pretty Italian church scenery, a lot of Tom Hanks' worried looks, a lot of music that tries valiantly to pound the pulse - but I honestly couldn't be arsed to care. A lot of it had to do with the lack of characterization - nobody in this movie has anything resembling a personality, only a plot purpose. A great deal had to do with the structure of the story - there's no doubt that Langdon and co. will race to save each victim and fail, because clearly we need to move on to the next elaborately "symbolic" death. A fair bit had to do with how ridiculously simplistic the riddles and clues are - if every location of the murder is an ancient church with an obelisk, and the obelisk is, like, significant and stuff, then why can't you just search every damn ancient church with an obelisk??

The problem I always have with these "treasure hunt" movies is this: if you want to hide your treasure, why would you leave clues? Why would you craft a ridiculous series of puzzles that anyone with access to Wikipedia (much less a professor of "symbology") could decipher? Only in this movie, it's not even a treasure hunt - it's a criminal who supposedly wants to kill four cardinals then blow up the city, yet gives the police a 5-hour timeline to prevent it. Yes, yes, they sorta explain it with the final twist at the end - in which, just like the final twist in Code, the bad guy is revealed to be the unlikeliest person possible no matter how little sense it makes.

There's this theme of the conflict between science and religion that goes nowhere,except for one embarassingly heavy-handed speech scene. And part of the reason why every character is dull is that every actor - Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer, Stellan SkarsgÄrd - is sleepwalking through the film. Y'know, to be fair, I wonder if I'm not being unduly harsh on the film because of my dislike for Dan Brown (and his undeserved billions, and that perpetually stupefied look he has in every photo of him, and the fact that after Code hit it big he basically rested on his laurels for years). As ludicrous as the plot is, I wonder if my belief-suspending muscles were simply slacking off this time round. But a movie is more than just the sum of its parts - a serviceable plot can be rendered ineffectual if the other elements aren't pulling their weight. Elements such as characterization and acting - and those, I can unequivocably say are made of suck.

The movie does one thing right - a spectacular and reasonably thrilling climax. That scene almost, almost, made me give the movie an extra half-star. And then the final twist came and made me go "aiyoo, movie, you blew it". Don't be fooled, folks; this movie is only pretending to be smart. And above all, please, please, don't give Dan Brown any more of your money.

Anticipation level: fingers crossed