Angels & Demons (2009)

(In theaters, May 2009) I really liked Dan Brown’s novel in part because of its preposterous eccentricities. But while Angels & Demons as a film does a few interesting things in smoothing out some of the book’s most ludicrous moments, it also loses a lot of what made the book so fascinating. The first and most significant victim is the book’s mixture of rapid pacing and endless exposition: What seemed so interesting on the page now looks contrived and perfunctory on the screen as the heroes race from a Roman checkpoint to another and keep telling themselves things that they are the only one to know and possibly care about. Tom Hanks is fine as Robert Langdon (while Ayelet Zurer’s legs practically deserve an award of some sort) and the cinematography features about the exact type of images you’d expect from a movie set in the Vatican. Fans of the book will notice that a significant portion of the book has been altered, from removing one set of antagonists entirely to changing the jaw-droopingly overdone parachute climax to something far more palatable. Surprisingly, the film is significantly less religious than the book: The alterations to the plot undermine the book’s anti-science subtext, while Langdon himself is allowed to remain atheist throughout the film without a nagging quasi-miracle to change his mind –a rare luxury in the middle of an American media noosphere that default to deniable theism whenever it can. (Of course, some will argue that protestant-dominated America can allow itself to be less than enthusiastic about promoting the Roman Catholic church.) Thematic considerations aside, it all adds to a bit of a misfire; a sometimes-ponderous thriller that doesn’t embarrass itself, but similarly fails to ignite much interest either. While generally better than the even-more-flawed The Da Vinci Code (Langdon is far more active a protagonist, for instance), Angels & Demons remains a bit dull, a bit long and -worst of all- a bit ordinary. Which certainly wasn’t the case for the novel.

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