Years ago, on a camping trip, I read Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code in a single day, a rarity since I’m a notoriously slow reader. I got swept away by its ideas. Later, though, I recall thinking, “That book is going to make a terrible movie unless some big changes are made.”
The Da Vinci Code is full of research – mostly of the bogus conspiracy theory nut variety – set into motion by the most mechanical of plots and populated by characters so thinly drawn that they seem to have been worked out on a cocktail napkin – the same napkin for the entire lot. For a movie to work at all, a screenwriter would have to take Brown’s ideas and re-attach them to characters we can care about.
Well, Akiva Goldsman, in my opinion the worst screenwriter working today, failed to place that book’s clothing on new flesh and blood bodies. He didn’t even try, seeming perfectly satisfied with its mannequins. I didn’t even have to check the credits to know he wrote Angels & Demons as well.
My teenage daughter saw Angels & Demons one day before I did and she raved about it being much better than its predecessor. I found her report encouraging. I’ve since heard other similar assessments around the office coffeemaker and I sadly disagree. I’d replace the “much” with “somewhat” and toss out the “better” in favor of “worse.”
After The Da Vinci Code with its speculations on Jesus Christ’s marriage to Mary Magdalene, Angels & Demons ducks into the Vatican to spin a thriller about a deceased pope and ceremonially executed pope wannabes by that old mainstay of conspiracy theorists, the Illuminati. Ultimately, it pokes sticks at the church itself. Brown must have quite the anti-Catholic axe to grind.
Admittedly though, there was a lot of fun to be had in looking at Da Vinci’s paintings and imaging their possible meanings hiding in plain sight for centuries. It was a fun game of art re-interpretation and history re-invention.
I didn’t find anything similarly fun or stimulating about the ideas in Angels & Demons. Without any pretty paintings to look at, all that’s left is a blank-faced Tom Hanks getting sucked into and gnawed and chewed by a starved plot, presumably hanging in there to collect a huge paycheck some time after being swallowed whole.
I want everyone to see Angels & Demons so I can ask: “Can you honestly find a single moment when you cared about anyone up on the screen? Does Hanks’ Robert Langdon make you want to run out and become a symbologist in the way Indiana Jones made thousands want to become archeologists? Can you even remember Vittoria Vetra, the pretty heroine, after exiting the theater?”
Of course, this lack of interesting ideas and recognizably human characters leaves the viewer with no choice but to pay attention to the plot, not a good idea in this case. For a movie that relies so heavily on a twist at the end, revealing the true villain, it’s not a good thing that said villain struts about in plain sight for the entire movie winking at us as if saying, “Give it time. The movie will eventually tell you what you already know about me.”
And I don’t usually care about such things, but there is a shootout with a bad guy and a handgun that had me mumbling, “Did he fire 26 shots or only 25? Well, in all this excitement, I kind of lost track. Does Langdon feel lucky? Does he, punk?”