Boston Globe movie critic Wesley Morris in his review of Angels & Demons asks a question (referring to the earlier movie The Da Vinci Code) – “Asking whether the new movie is better than the first is natural if moot. Would you prefer to drown in a swimming pool or an ocean?” I would like to answer that question before proceeding with my review. You see, The Da Vinci Code is like being stranded in the middle of an ocean because your ship has sunk, with various species of sharks circling around you taking small bites every now and then before you die either due to blood loss or sheer boredom. Angels & Demons is like drowning in the deep-end of the pool in swimming class, with lifeguards around you who try to resuscitate you but fail.
Having endured medieval torture (aka The Da Vinci Code movie), I was in no mood to spend money on watching Angels & Demons in PVR. Surprisingly though, no PVR branch (or any other multiplex chain) is playing this movie! When I came to know that Sangam Cinema in Sector 12, R K Puram was going to play this (but not PVR), I couldn’t resist. Despite staying in RKP I have never been to that place. It’s mostly because Sangam is the kind of theatre which usually plays C-grade Bollywood flicks with names like ख़ूनी दरिंदा भयानक मौत.
I knew that there’s an impasse currently between Bollywood flick distributors and multiplex owners, which is why there have been no new Hindi movie releases lately. Whatever new Bolly flick releases have happened were shown in single screen theatres such as Sangam. Apparently A&D was so bizarre (and crappy) that the High Priests of Sangam Cinema – using a headless chicken – determined that it was essentially a Bollywood masala movie and should be shown in their theatre. Except that the masala turns out to be elaichi instead of red chili.
With much trepidation I trudged down today to that place. ‘Trepidation’ is that feeling you get when you walk up to the ticket counter, only to find that slab of the counter is buried under inch-thick dust. As if nobody had been to this part of town before. The lone ticket counter guy was positively sweating while handling this huge influx of people coming to his theatre (or maybe it was just the ceiling fan, which was rotating at the rate of one revolution per century). You feel even more trepidation when that ticket counter guy tells you that you’ve got a ticket for Angles & Demons. Is this some new story I’ve never heard of, where Robert Langdon will unearth sinister coincidences between Golden Angles and churches around the world – using nothing other than his knowledge, an intellectual arm-candy (whom he will inevitably bed in the climax), and the hands of his Mickey Mouse watch? Or would Father Lamont hack n’ slash a Pazuzu to pieces armed with nothing but a protractor and the Holy Bible? There was only one way to find out – and that was to watch the movie.
Anyway, I bought my ticket and walked into the premises. The hall is pretty big actually; if only they’d do something about moth-eaten chairs and musty smells. Adjusting your seat sounds like riding a bicycle which hasn’t been oiled for a few decades. When you go to a multiplex, you get bored by the advertisements they keep on airing before the show starts. After going to Sangam, you’ll wish fervently that PVR keeps whoring itself out for more ads. I mean, you do get bored when they shows ads, but when they don’t show anything at all you get really bored. And irritated, at that guy two rows back who’s playing bhajans from his cellphone at full volume.
The show started after a few messages on screen from the manger of the theatre on not eating foodstuff offered by strangers etc. The movie, thankfully, wasn’t ANGLES & Demons. The story is set in a different timeline from the Dan Brown novels on which this movie is (supposed to be) based. Here, the incidents of A&D take place after those in The Da Vinci Code movie. Then we cut to CERN where Big Scientists are creating antimatter. It’s the first indication that the novel’s plot has been taken, castrated and then brutally hacked to pieces. I won’t keep going into what has been changed from the book, since every big and small detail has been changed.
‘Bio-entanglement’ physicist Vittoria Vetra is there from this point itself; played by Ayelet Zurer who tries ineffectively to put on an Italian accent. Antimatter is created and trapped in a canister. So far so good. The assassin has been replaced by a spectacle-wearing mercenary who then gains access after killing a scientist, and runs away with the canister. In the book this fact is discovered much later. Oh, and the guy killed is not Vittoria’s dad – in the movie.
Pause for a moment here. We all make fun of Dan Brown for writing incredibly silly plots, but can Ron Howard please explain to me how the assassin is going to fucking exit fucking CERN with a fucking antimatter canister when the theft is discovered by Vittoria within minutes of the murder? Sure, it’s very womanly to swoon when you see a dead body, but I presume you’ll still call security to lock-down the premises. Right? Right?! Try imagining a thief trying to get a canister of antimatter past security at CERN…is this what the assassin would say?!
At this point Robert Langdon is brought into the picture – by the Vatican itself. The character of Maximilian Kohler is done away with. This bit is again odd. A Vatican Police officer gets in touch with Robert Langdon while he’s doing laps in the swimming pool at Harvard. The officer hands him a printout of the Illuminati ambigram – and tells Langdon that it’s an Illuminati ambigram. In the book, Langdon had a reason to get involved since Kohler didn’t know what he was facing. In this alternate bastard universe where events are happening after the events of Da Vinci Code, why would the Vatican, who already know what the Illuminati is get in touch with a person who so thoroughly beat their philosophy to pulp? All of this is mentioned by the police officer, and the reason he gives is Langdon’s ‘erudition’. The kind of logic used in this hack job of a script to move from scene A to scene B is worse than the ‘logic’ porn movies use to go from ‘not boning’ to ‘boning’.
It seems that churches around the world have raised money by selling raffle tickets to buy a Lockheed Martin X-33 from CERN, which seems to be the only logical explanation as to why Tom Hanks is able to show up in Rome soon after in the timeline. Vittoria is also present but again, let’s think about this for a second. In the novel, she and her father were the only ones who worked on the antimatter project, so she had to be brought to the Vatican. In the movie she’s simply the person who discovered who was murdered. With so many more senior scientists at call, CERN had to send the bio-entanglement physicist, didn’t they? (Of course, the real reason is that you need a cute chick whom Langdon can keep explaining history in parenthetical inserts during dialogue.) At this point, I gave up. I was going to stop analysing and switch into the Michael Bay mode of watching movies.
The movie picks up pace over here…and it’s really good. I completely understand that a book needs to be adapted to a screenplay for a movie to work. The writers got this bit right – from the point all the characters are in Rome. This middle act is a) brilliant b) fast-paced. You as a viewer will forgive the filmmakers for all the changes that they make. One of the biggest complaints about The Da Vinci Code movie was that it was excruciatingly slow. Seems that the studio listened and made changes this time. To those who’ve read the novel it will feel like your watching T-20 match highlights – but even then it’s good enough to enjoy for you and non-book readers both. They did a fine job of handling the balance between history lectures and action. I won’t spoil the best bits of the movie by giving anything away.
The visuals in the movie are stunning. Quite possibly because the filmmakers weren’t given full freedom to shoot in the places they wanted, CGI panoramic fly-bys are littered all across the movie. Once again, the difference between this movie and its predecessor shows in th fact that this one focuses more on the action on screen rather than pottering about showing architecture. There are many (un?)intentionally funny scenes in which lighten up the mood every now and then – I’ll leave you to discover them on your own since the jokes are quite subtle. (Or maybe it’s just me who thinks those scenes were intended to be jokes.)
Product placements in the movie can get irritating when there’s only one brand being talked about – which was Sony in this case as the movie was financed by Sony Pictures. I mean, if you want to do product placement then you should try to achieve the standards set by Michael Bay in The Island, which had product placements from Cisco , MSN Search, Calvin Klein, Xbox, Puma, Reebok, Miller Light, NBC, NFL, Budweiser, Michelob, Apple, Aquafina, General Motors, DaimlerChrysler, Mack, Coca-Cola, Speedo, TAG Heuer, Amtrak, Ben & Jerry’s, and Nokia – and that’s just barely scratching the surface. Instead, the viewer is subject to blink-and-you-miss-it shots of Sony products every few minutes in the movie. Ron Howard thinks it’s very clever when he surreptitiously shows products, but it isn’t. Despite the astonishing number of product placements in The Island, nothing feels in-your-face like it does in A&D.
Dan Brown novels are interesting – not because they are factually accurate – but because he knows goddamn well how to write a gripping story. It’s the final act in Dan Brown novels where everything comes to a conclusion which are so exciting that you tend to forgive him for all the sins he commits in making factual errors. What Ron Howard did in this movie is to take that exciting finale and turn it into either extremely boring or extremely silly. The assassin in the movie is a wuss who doesn’t fight with Langdon when dropping the last cardinal in a fountain. (Unlike the book, the cardinal survives and eventually becomes the Pope.) Then, the fight scenes at Castel Sant’Angelo has been completely rewritten. Langdon and Vetra turn up there with a whole SWAT team. The SWAT team leaves because they find it difficult to move around that place because of the huge satellite dish sticking out of Tom Hanks’ ass. Mr Hanks then discovers a secret passage which leads him to the place where the assassin is. Assassin receives an instant message on his Sony Vaio laptop that MOAR MUNNEH has been transferred to his Isle of Man account. When he sees that he comes out of his hiding place. Ayelet Zurer points her cellphone at him; Mr G(r)ay – that’s the assassin’s name in this movie – points a motherfucking gun at her and tells how silly pointing a cellphone is in a stand-off.
After she’s threatened, she throws the phone away the assassin delivers a classic “…or else” line and walks away. “Ooh, I’m scared“. He said “…or else!” That’s what Ron Howard thinks hardcore is. Anyway, the assassin winks and just walks away. It doesn’t occur to Langdon or Vittoria to pick up the phone and call the cops who’re milling about in the lower floors. Mr Gay rappels down the building (no cop notices) and makes his getaway…except that he doesn’t since his employer has double crossed him. He dies in a ball of flame when his car explodes.
Langdon and Vetra then run down the secret passage connecting Sant’Angelo to the Vatican office. Here, the role of Maximilian Kohler is rolled into the that of the head of Swiss Guard. The duo reaches in time to tell that camerlengo Patrick McKenna (played by Ewan McGregor) is in danger; Swiss Guards then bust the door down and shoot their boss. In the novel, the conclave to elect a new Pope is evacuated at this point, but not in this movie. For some lame reason, they all decide to rush to the tomb of Saint Peter…which in the movie is a place protected by an electronic keypad access system. Unlike the book, the battery of the antimatter canister can be replaced…but it isn’t because “it’s cold here in the tomb [cue foggy breath] and cold makes batteries run faster [cue foggy breath]”.
So our padre camerlengo decides to do all the running – and runs away with the canister. He reaches a helicopter, yanks the pilot away and lifts off (Langdon not in tow). The Force is very strong in the camerlengo – he coaxes, cajoles and whispers sweet nothings into the helicopter’s soul-ears. That’s the only logical explanation as to why the helicopter keeps flying straight up and away from the Vatican with the ticking bomb, even after he jumps off with a parachute.
The movie reaches new heights of retardedness not even achieved in the novel when the conclave starts discussing about how to elect the camerlengo through election by acclamation. The book got it wrong because this method of election was deprecated in 1996. The movie got it even more terribly wrong because election by acclamation is supposed to be done by spontaneous chanting of a priest’s name, not by whisper-politics behind closed doors – especially since in the movie they hadn’t even seen the ‘miracle’ with their own eyes. A few more things happen – including one scene where security footage from Sony cameras is played back on a Sony computer – from which we get to know that the camerlengo is a sonyson-of-a-bitch who’s orchestrated this whole charade. A new Pope is elected, who hands gives Robert Langdon a secret-Galileo-book-of-which-only-one-copy-exists (the one Vatican has been trying to hide for ages) for keeps. Speeches are given about how Robert Langdon and the Church can be friends. Rainbows and unicorns start sprouting up from every corner of the room and the world lives happily ever after.
Angels & Demons is, in the end, a $150 million exercise by Sony Pictures executives to appease the Vatican and ensure their souls don’t go to Hell. It’s as if they believe the first movie flopped because they angered God rather than shitty screenplay and direction. Throughout the movie, Ron Howard keeps sucking up to the Vatican. The middle act in the movie is brilliant – and should be made a textbook case on how books should be adapted to movies. The final act should also be made a textbook case – on how books should not be adapted to movies. It could potentially have been a great movie – but the final act destroys the all the fun in watching this movie.