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Angels & Demons

May 20, 2009

In true Miley Cyrus style, 7 Things I Hate About You.

you’re vain…

I tried many times to get this point across to people about Dan Brown’s book, and Ron Howard’s subsequent film of, The Da Vinci Code: for me, it’s never really been about the subject. I couldn’t care less, I really couldn’t, about the Holy Grail or The Knights Templar or Opus Dei, or any of that stuff. It’s all about the telling of the story.

And in that, we’re failed. Palpably failed. But already, I know I’ve lost them, the fans, the Brownites. The shutters come down; you’re branded some sort of snob, a sneerer, you’re someone who can’t allow that a film can be ‘only a movie’, or that a book can be ‘pure escapism’. This, of course is such a fatuous and thick-headed argument that you actually feel lessened for pursuing it. But, fuck it, I’m willing to march into Hell for a Heavenly cause, so let’s give it a try. If you want pure escapism, watch extreme sports or birds flying for two hours; and you know what, I guarantee after a few minutes you’ll want to know a bit more: why is the bleached-blond knucklehead throwing himself to his much hoped for death?; what sort of birds are they, where do they live, breed, nest? You see, you have to have something. You’ve got to hang your interest on some sort of hook, and if that’s the case, why not make it a bloody good one? Why not embrace a structured and satisfying conceit for a work crafted and moulded out of a genuine desire, as Lord Reith said, to educate, inform and entertain? Why settle for such dreadful shite? The Da Vinci Code fails as a piece of fiction because it is written by a moron who knows what he would ideally like to say, but who lacks, pretty much entirely, any of the abilities required to say it. “The famous man looked at the red cup” joked Stewart Lee, taunting Brown’s flat and unflinchingly bland style, and he hit it fairly squarely on the noggin. Dan Brown really is that crap. There is nothing to the man. He has as much style as a baby moving magnetic words around on a fridge door. When someone as lowbrow as Lee Child can manage to do it, and Dan Brown can’t, then shit, honey, you know you’re in trouble.

Now, I haven’t read Angels & Demons, but I have trudged all the way through The Da Vinci Code, and despite the possible shaking of heads and tuts of disapproval, I’m willing to believe that in it he hasn’t performed a startling volte face and produced a heartbreaking work of staggering genius. Sadly, I’ll admit, that is a massive assumption on my behalf, so if anyone wants to authoritatively contradict me, please go ahead.

…your games

OK, plot; here it is. Be warned, this is going to be painful. The Illuminati have decided to blow the Vatican up. To do this, they’ve waited for the Pope to die, and, during the conclave, managed to steal some anti-matter created in the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, shipped it to Rome. Then, four cardinals are kidnapped. The reason for that is – bear with me – so that they can be killed on the hour in manners befitting the respective elements of scientific blah-di-blah, something about Air and Fire, Earth and Water. You know. You’ve seen this sort of shit before. Anyway, the cardinals are locked away in basements in various churches throughout Rome, while this nasty Illuminati type (who seems to work on his own, so has done quite well what with security and that) keeps heading out into the streets to dump the bodies every hour; once they’re gone, he’ll detonate the anti-matter and send the entire city to wherever it is evil non-church ancient science loonies blow things to. Who will save the day?

you’re insecure…

Well, if you’ve been watching and reading the Brownster, you’ll know the answer. It’s Robert Langdon…huzzah! The man who, in the books, “looks like Harrison Ford”, but in the movies is dependable potato-faced between-good-roles Tom Hanks! Yay! Langdon, as I imagine we all know by now, is a Symbologist at Harvard. I’m sure that makes him a Semiologist, really, but as we’re dragging as many people as possible along, it probably pays to follow the path of least resistance here, and the hard of thinking would only giggle at the accurate term’s first syllable. And then they’d get confused. And a bit scared.

Langdon is asked to fly to Rome by the Vatican itself. After the issues with the Catholic Church in the previous film (ironically – and it is the only use of irony in the entire thing – the movie takes place after The Da Vinci Code, whereas the book uses it as a prequel, and so we have several chortles at “our previous…difficulties”) you’d think this was a little rich, but it seems that the good Professor is the only person in the world who can work this shit out. As with all evil plans, the killer is intent on leaving frickin’ clues everywhere so that we can have a chase. Why these people don’t just blow shit up and be done with it is beyond me.

And, Jumping Jack Christ, isn’t Langdon happy to point out just how clever he is? All. The. Fucking. Time. Brown’s tiresome habit of telling us stuff we simply didn”t realise we didn’t know, or really want to know, or need to know, is echoed time and again. “Ah! The Great Castration of the statues by Pope Pius IX!” Hanks muses, without being asked, as he’s being walked to the Vatican offices, “In 1857…” Or, more patronisingly, “do I have to tell you guys your own history?” well, yes, Robert, clearly you do, because how else will we be lead along by the nose being told stuff you’ve whipped off wikipedia, you prick.

…you love me, you like her

Langdon’s character is followed around by the lovely Vittoria (Ayelet Zurer), an – I shit you not – enigmatic particle physicist. Her presence is crucial because a) making our hero an expert on the Higgs boson is a stretch for even the densest of cinema-goers, and b) Langdon needs someone to explain the plot to.

The action takes place over a roughly 6 hour period. This is not in real time, although it bloody well felt like it. It’s a nebulous timescale, swiped from Taken, and allows everyone to get into a bit of a lather, for ‘important documents’ to be flown from Switzerland, and for our protagonists to reach their artificially constructed deadlines at a minute to the hour, or just after, or just on. Leave me alone, I am trying to sex this shit up, dammit.

It means that everything can be done at pace. Langdon and Vittoria get to run into rooms, he gets to say something erudite about history or something, point at a picture, and then leave that room. Yes, it’s just like The Da Vinci Code. This is what passes for action. If you’re expecting to find out anything about these people, any hint of insight or motivation, you’ll be hugely disappointed.

Oh, and. And. God, anyone, anyone who has seen a twisty-turny thriller worth its salt will know at one particular point in this that the game is up. It is a cinematic truth, universally acknowledged, that when a reveal is made mostly off screen and the accused dispatched before he can explain himself fully, then issues have not really been resolved. We will be made to return – alarmingly, clunkily – via a secret camera to the unsatisfying scene to view it anew.

you make me laugh, you make me cry…

Things get worse. We are, as stated in Rome. Well, not Rome. That’s for damn certain. I mean, it is Rome, obviously. Look, there’s the Colosseum, there’s St Peter’s Basillica, that’s the Castel Sant’Angelo. The production values and the cinematography are fabulous, but, just as with Paris in the last movie, Dan Brown thinks you can get across town in minutes, he thinks that all the squares except St Peter’s are almost empty, and that people won’t notice if you tip a 70 year old man into a fountain. All the while, predictably, we’re being told this fact and that fact but if you think you might get an idea of what the Eternal City is actually like, you’d be better off watching almost anything else (Roman Holiday, La Dolce Vita, Sabrina the Teenage Witch Goes to Rome). Denied access to the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel and other areas, some famous landmarks have been brilliantly reproduced, but others, the Vatican archives for example, merely guessed at. And, so, if you need someone to remake a Bond movie circa 1973, Ron Howard is clearly your man. His secret underground library is hilariously Evil Nemesis Lair material. Who knew there was a hollowed-out volcano under the Basilica? No wonder the Holy Father commands such respect.

…your friends, they’re jerks

Brown’s books run along rails so painfully and determinedly, Ron Howard has no choice but to follow in exactly the same way. This is inevitable, because if they didn’t, if they had even a moment’s pause, to break out of the dull as buggery locate-and-cement-part-1-to-part-2 structure, it would all become even more obviously plastic than it already is. And of course this is the film’s almightiest failing. The film plays out like Dan Brown prose. It may just be the most faithful adaptation of a novel of all time, because it is flat, non-inflected, reactionary, shallow and tedious. All situations are signposted, all attempts at gravitas are misguided and amusing. The cliffhangers, when they’re not being ridiculous to the point of insulting (I can’t deny that it’s almost worth it for the helicopter ascending to Heaven moment, more of which in a second), are utterly pointless and derivative. Bombs with timers…you know what I’m talking about. It’s a bit like looking at someone else’s holiday snaps being described by a third party who wasn’t even there.

and the 7th thing I hate the most

…is Ewan McGregor. I was going to leave it there, but I can’t. In this, he’s the Camerlengo, the figure who allegedly acts as the Pope while the new Pope is being decided upon. He is supposed to be from Northern Ireland. What is his excuse for speaking in the bizarre Scottish/Italian hybrid he manages? Can’t Scottish people do Belfast accents? I bet they fucking can, you know. Why does he sound so terminally bored? Why does he look so terminally bored? If someone branded you with a three foot square red hot iron, would you be able to trot about five minutes later? Would you be able to fly a helicopter? Would you be able to time it perfectly to allow an anti-matter bomb to explode miles above Rome and then parachute out, straight back to the exact spot you took off from? Finally, the answer as to why Ewan can’t impersonate an Irish priest has become obvious; he’s Vin friggin’ Diesel, that’s why! It is, as I say above, almost worth shelling out for the helicopter moment (certainly, nothing will look more satisfyingly hilarious this year than a parachuting Super Priest with his soutane flapping merrily around his thighs as he floats into the wall of the Vatican), and it prefixes the most grandiose, self-regarding image manipulation you are likely to see in a long while. Ewan, creating a hole that goes up to Heaven.

Oh, OK, only sort of. But it’s a moment that really wants to wow you. It reckons itself big time, and it’s as tiresome and fatuous as everything that has preceded it.

Give me strength. Angels & Demons is a great fat wank fest of ill-considered head-scratching stupidity, limned by overblown imagery and pompous declarations of portent. It is full of the most dreadful dreck you can possibly imagine, and it is worse than all of that because it takes itself so painfully seriously. The straight faces and stern dialogue highlight just how far some people will go to make a buck. Dreadful.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 20, 2009 1:58 pm

    Mr. Amner,

    Kudos! I have to salute your review generally, but I would draw your cautionary attention to an above use of the phrase “enigmatic particle physicist” and the inevitable conflict this will cause with volume four of my much anticipated opus, “Chance To Divide”, in which one of the thriller genre’s greatest herpes, my creation Don Brawn, will in fact indeed be joining forces with a studier of enigmatic particles in a bid to out-think, out-maneuoueveour and just plain out-man the forces of social chaos that are ever at our collective societal door. I only mention it because I would have to hate to litigate.

    Should I ever watch Angels & Demons, or “Angeles y Demonios” as it’s known in these parts, I too shall endeavour to frame my thoughts using a popular song of the times. Perchance, as I am unfamiliar with Miley Cyrus and this is the song I keep mistakenly think you refer to, I will use Eamon & Frankee’s touching ballad “I Don’t Want You Back”. I understand there is a particularly apposite refrain for the subject at hand.

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