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Angels and Demons...and a Raised Eyebrow

Movie Title: Angels and Demons (2009)
Spoilers: No

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I have a small, dark-green army man toy that I carry in my front pocket while critiquing a movie. When things start to die down on screen, I take it out of my pocket and piddle with it. I might make up a quick story and “play” with it for a few seconds in my mind, depending on how boring the film I am watching gets. A completely enrapturing movie results in my never having to reach for it. Go on. Think I'm weird. That's ok!

While watching Angels and Demons, I went for it twice, but immediately put it back both times. As before in his direction of The Da Vinci Code, Ron Howard shows his skill in making what would otherwise have been a conspiratorial cock-a-mimi plot fit only for New Age-y bookworms in some book club in the back of an obscure library somewhere into engaging viewing.

The stimulating quality of Angels and Demons is the message it bears about the eternal conflict between God and science, theism and atheism. The bias of the film is fickle, diving in and out between making strong anti-Catholic statements while emphasizing that the Catholic Church has a growing number of heretics, and today they are respected and welcomed with the title: “Progressives.”

There remains hope for a war-torn church that regrets her horrid past of setting heretics on fire in the streets for daring to defy the church's edicts, but there is also fear on the part of many…fear of progress, of change, of science, and fear that the next stone unturned by man’s intellect will rob the church of her sacred goods forever and put God out to pasture. These are the issues, both of the film and of our time. When man gets past his fear of letting go of God, we’ll look back at this film and it will be a landmark.

“Since the days of Galileo, this church has tried to slow the relentless march of progress,” says Camerlengo Patrick McKenna (Ewen McGregor) while trying to find the reason for a highly unusual bomb threat against Vatican City that appears to be coming from an old enemy of the church’s past. A pope has died. Four cardinals have been abducted, and the weapon of retribution is based upon technology that pours salt in that old open wound of the question of man’s origins.

Having been denied access to the Vatican archives for his own research, Dr. Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is surprised to again find himself in the middle of a mystery of medieval proportions. He finds himself working with an attractive Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer), a physicist who is responsible for the intel on the weapon, and the Vatican police. As expected, there are clues and corruption, but things aren’t what they seem. We have Ron Howard’s capable directing to thank for that.

When I hear the word “Illuminati,” my mind says: “tired old theme!” Immediately, I associate it with “Atlantis” and a so-called “face on Mars,” and other publicized stacks of silliness that have been played upon for so long that some of us are awaiting eagerly something new. But conspiracy theories are too appealing for far too many people. That’s how those strange few who think George Bush was behind the 911 attacks are kept in business. There are a lot of stupid people out there (not uneducated, just stupid). This is pseudo-science and why it is so alluring to so many.

What you might think robs the movie of credibility does not. The logical-thinking mind runs into problems with what is happening. For instance, if the Illuminati exist, would they not evolve with the times? Would they not prefer to meet in the equivalent of a low-key Motel6 some thirty-five miles out of the target area as opposed to using mystic symbolism and the direction statues point to find the locale of their operation? Well, hold on tight. Not so fast!

Like its predecessor, Angels and Demons was a decent conspiracy movie (for the right person), a made-interesting hunt for clues, with big dependency on the rhetoric. There is still much to forgive—and I mean things of greater importance than photon particles being accelerated at the speed of light and oddly making sounds like roman candles as they travel!

Both being based off of Dan Brown’s fictional thrillers, The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons managed to hold my interest and then some, this one a little more so than its 2006 forerunner. The pacing is just right and the characters are ably weaved in. And then something happens.

About fifty minutes in, things become muddled and congested and the necessary dramatic build-up drops off. Things start happening too fast, like when someone is recounting a story they are too familiar with, and you have to say: “Whoa, whoa, slow down. Hold on. Now, what???” When everything is wrapped up, you’re satisfied, but with a raised eyebrow.

(JH)

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Grade: B- (3 stars)
Rated: PG-13
Summation: Dr. Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) finds himself trying to prevent an attack against the Vatican.
Director: Ron Howard
Starring: Tom Hanks “Robert Langdon,” Ewan McGregor “Camerlengo Patrick McKenna,” Ayelet Zurer “Vittoria Vetra,” Stellan SkarsgĂ„rd “Commander Richter,” Pierfrancesco Favino “Inspector Olivetti,” Nikolaj Lie Kaas “Assassin,” Armin Mueller-Stahl “Cardinal Strauss,” Thure Lindhardt “Chartrand,” David Pasquesi “Claudio Vincenzi,” Cosimo Fusco “Father Simeon,” Victor Alfieri “Lieutenant Valenti”
Genre: Adventure / Crime / Drama / Mystery / Thriller

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