Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"Angels & Demons" Review

To celebrate the recent release of The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown, I'm posting my May 15th screenplay review of Angels & Demons, the film based on Brown's first book in the Langdon series.

Republished with permission from Creative Screenwriting:

Langdon vs. God
Sarah Skilton

Angels & Demons

David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman
Based upon
the novel by Dan Brown

Returning screenwriter Akiva Goldsman joins David Koepp for more Vatican-baiting adventures, and their script easily surpasses 2006's
The Da Vinci Code. Despite some unintended yuks, so-so dialogue, and a few moments that insult the audience's intelligence, the story is brisk, exciting, and surprising.

Although Dan Brown's novel for
Angels & Demons came first, the film adaptation of the book is treated like a sequel to The Da Vinci Code, with Tom Hanks reprising his role of Professor Robert Langdon, symbols expert. When a scientific cult called the Illuminati ("Enlightened Ones") kidnaps four Cardinals and threatens to blow up the Vatican using anti-matter they've stolen from the CERN laboratory in Switzerland, Langdon is summoned from Harvard to help the Swiss Guard and Vatican Police follow "The Path of Illumination" to locate the bomb. At first, church officials give Langdon the stink-eye, as they've not forgotten his sacrilegious theories from the previous film. But since he understands more about their own history than they do, they're prepared to cede the floor. Langdon also partners with a comely, mostly believable physicist named Dr. Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer, generating better chemistry with Hanks than Audrey Tautou did in Code).

The script is marred by unintentional humor, often arising from overly expository dialogue. Early subtitles in a lab scene gone wrong suggest cartoon villains at work ("The reactor was not supposed to generate anti-matter!"), and Langdon and his team spend a large portion of their introductions telling each other things they already know. Even though nearly everyone in Rome speaks (accented) English, the script doesn't trust the audience to understand much, because Landgon ends up interpreting English into…more obvious English. For example, the Illuminati leave their seekers a message warning that neither priests nor professors are safe. "They know I'm here," Professor Langdon blurts out. Cutting to his silent, fearful reaction and letting the mention of "professors" speak for itself would have carried more weight. Even the ancient Latin and Roman texts from the super-secret Vatican archives have clues written in English in the margins. How thoughtful! To be fair, moments of intentional humor work well, too, such as the back-and-forth between Langdon and Vittoria when they're pretending to be married tourists, or a scene where reporters from different countries announce that the Cardinal from their respective region is surely the frontrunner to become Pope.

Characterization is hit-or-miss. Professor Langdon's methods of deduction remain unexplained; it's easier to just take his word for it. Mostly he mutters to himself, gestures with a marker across a map, or races around until he stumbles upon a centuries-old clue or statue that confirms his guess or refutes it. At least twice he looks down at a critical interval only to realize that he's standing on top of the clue he needs. Other times he becomes Action Symbologist!, fleeing from bullets and crawling over skulls. On the plus side, the character of Camerlengo Patrick McKenna (Ewan McGregor), is compelling. A complicated and passionate young Priest temporarily in charge of Vatican City until a new Pope is named, he tries to evacuate the crowds outside St. Peter's. When his efforts are met with resistance, he tries personally, and at great risk to himself, to save them from potential doom.

Despite its flaws, the film is exciting and often downright fun: murder, vengeance, cover-ups, a race against madmen, and an impending Vatican explosion keep you on the edge of your seat.
The Da Vinci Codefeatured a homicidal, self-flagellating religious nut, so it's only fair that Angels & Demons features a homicidal, self-satisfied science nut. Or does it? The twists pile on toward the last third of the film, and people who are telegraphed early and often as power-hungry creeps (such as Armin Mueller-Stahl's Cardinal Strauss) get a satisfying chance to redeem themselves. As an action-packed popcorn flick, Angels & Demons gets your heart racing, but as a semi-ridiculous, pseudo-history lesson, it also gets your eyes rolling.

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