On Second Thought: “Angels & Demons”

The sequel. Tough to craft and meet all expectations, but when it’s a follow up to a successful book adaptation, it’s even tougher. So many things are already stacked against a given creative team, why are they even bothering? Oh, right. That. Still, if the film can’t come together as fans want and expect, they may be more disappointed to learn that this was how the franchise ended.

The Columbia Pictures film “Angels & Demons”, is a quick moving thriller that actually gives you more than just puzzles, symbols, art, and history to become fixated with.

This thriller stars Tom Hanks (“Maya & Marty”, “Bridge of Spies”), Ewan McGregor (upcoming films “American Pastoral”, “T2: Trainspotting”), Ayelet Zurer (“Ben-Hur (2016)”, “Last Days in the Desert”), Stellan Skarsgard (“Our Kind of Traitor”, “River”), Pierfrancesco Favino (“The Confessions”, “Marco Polo”), Nikolaj Lie Kaas (“A Conspiracy of Faith”, “Follow the Money”), and Armin Mueller Stahl (“Knight of Cups”, “Leningrad”).

The film was directed by Ron Howard (upcoming “Inferno”, “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years”) and written by David Koepp (upcoming “Inferno”, “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”) and Akiva Goldsman (upcoming films “Rings”, “The Dark Tower”). It is based on the novel of the same name by Dan Brown.

The film originally opened on May 15, 2009.

Who would’ve thought that five months after writing about “The Da Vinci Code” I’d be writing about this film?! Probably everybody! No, seriously, everyone but me would’ve been able to figure that out. Hell, they probably did. It’s not like I didn’t know that “Inferno” was coming out this year, and yet, now that it’s a week away from opening, it’s finally dawning on me. I really don’t know how I didn’t notice that until this week. I must be off my game. Regardless, I’m finally getting a chance to revisit this film. I’ve seen it once, and most recently bought a low priced copy of the film, which itself was a bit strange. It was in a case that I’ve never seen before. Two discs and booklet glued in, and it just opened, like a book. Definitely not normal. Whatever. I’m just glad I have this and got to watch as I sort of forgot what I like about these films, and the source material which makes it possible for them to exist at all.

This film has it all. All that I’ve come to expect form a Robert Langdon adventure, even though only two have been told on the big screen thus far. I really think, much like with the previous film, it’s these little things that make a drastic difference in how one is able to view the film and enjoy it.

The various locations in Italy for starters, even those that were not shot on location or at the places depicted. Throw in sets and the various costumes, and guess what?! You’re there! I was immersed in everything quite quickly, and not only took in all the beauty that Italy had to offer, even if it was recreated, but found myself becoming just another person who wanted to save the kidnapped cardinal’s and save Vatican City. From the standpoint of a thriller, these locations and costumes, and whatever other sets were used, just added something beyond authenticity.

Those elements, coupled with another thrilling and wonderful score from Hans Zimmer (upcoming “Inferno”, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”), brought a major element I thought was somewhat missing from the previous film. I must say though, I can see a clear difference between these two film’s, and so it makes some sense. There’s more danger in this film. I truly felt that, even though I didn’t really learn anything about any of the characters, there was still something at stake. It really was a life and death situation. Because of this, you’re also able to get that thrilling adventure you want, and ultimately see what is probably a magnificent city in person, all from the comfort of your couch. While I may have had a few issues with how long this film seemed to be, none of that stopped me from just going with the action. Everything was go, go, go, and I wanted to be a part of it. Various moments did surprise me, which is another thing one can add to the plus column, but it just allowed for me to enjoy the film more.

These little surprises also showed me how it can be a good thing to not watch a film 25 times in the span of a few years. I couldn’t really recall this film, nor the book, which I also can’t recall when it was I read it. I vaguely knew what was going to happen next. At some point, most likely form the beginning, if my notes are any indicator, I fell for one of the oldest moves in storytelling. The red herring. Making it worse, other than my memory, I didn’t even start to question the obviousness of what Koepp and Goldsman were doing until it was just about time for the big “reveal”. Oy. But, at the same time, that’s incredible! I got so wrapped up and lost in the performances and what was going on, that I bought into what was being sold. For me, in some way, that’s a pretty good indicator that this film’s doing something right.

What’s also a decent indicator, is the fact that you’re still able to like all the characters, or hate them, if that’s the case, without ever learning that much about them. I know I mentioned it for a moment above, but I felt I should clarify a bit more. This lack of character insight, or real growth for Hanks, is a plus and a minus. The minus is obvious. The plus, like with the previous film, this wasn’t a film about the characters. It wasn’t even a film that demanded stellar performances, although we did get pretty good ones, so I’ll take that! No, this was about seeing characters react to a horrific and continuous event, and try to solve clues before it was too late. Like the last film, but with consequences that actually seemed to matter. You got slight insights, but nothing you’d probably ever remember, and ironically, the one character who got anything resembling a full character backstory, was the same one causing all the mayhem! Thank god for the fact that there were a lot of likable characters.

However, there’s one thing I don’t think God is ever going to be able to help us with. It’s the one area where I find that the books are definitely better than the movie, and that, perhaps, not all books should be adapted for the big screen. With this logic in play, I do find that this franchise ends up in the middle there, but only because each film has been exciting to sit through, more or less. I hated it last time and I still hate it. Hanks’ Langdon is smart, brilliant! We get that. Zurer, a scientist, is also incredibly smart, as are many of the other police officials who accompany them on this glorified treasure hunt. We can see that. However, the problem lies in the fact that everything just seems to come to them instantly. No thought seems to be required at all, even if the various characters take one or two minutes to ponder it. It’s just too quick, and there’s something fake about it. It seems like a major issue, but it isn’t, certainly when you factor in everything else, but it’s a nagging one. It’s impossible to ignore. When I watch this film next, or its predecessor, this issue will pop up in the same spot and remain noticeable for the rest of the film. If there’s anything more annoying than that, please, tell me about it. I really want to know.

When it comes to sequels, or a long running franchise, it’s tough to say for certain what you’re looking for. Depending on the type of film that comes next, it could very well be anything. Do you just want good fun? A lot of action? Character driven plot with exciting elements that should exist more often in other films too? Whatever it is, just make sure you set your expectations accordingly. That seems to be a problem when it comes to films like this one. People expect way more than they should, and then are surprised when they don’t come close to seeing that bar met. Realize what type of film you’re watching and just have fun with it. Once you accept it for the film it is, you’ll probably get what you wanted and realize it’s not a complete waste of your time.

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