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Angels and Demons

dir: Ron Howard
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They must be taking the piss, right?

It’s impossible to believe that intelligent people, which includes all the people involved in this production except for Dan Brown (let’s give them the benefit of the doubt but not him), could make this film and be treating it as a serious endeavour. It is one of the only films I can think of in recent memory that would benefit greatly from the inclusion of a rabid, nitrous oxide suffused laugh track. Taken on face value, that this wasn’t intended as some kind of parody or black comedy, is almost incomprehensible.

The two words that come most readily to mind about anything to do with Dan Brown in general and this film specifically are ‘absurd’ and ‘unconvincing’. I’m sure there are plenty of other words, but these are the cleanest and most accurate I can think of right now. I’m not going to ramble on about The DaVinci Code, because I reviewed it when that stinking, lumbering turd of a film first stank up the cinemas a few year’s ago.

They are however peas in a pod. Shitty peas in a stinky pod. The one singular virtue this latest film possesses over its predecessor is that it is nowhere near as long, thank Satan.

It also shares this fundamental approach to Catholicism that it is, to its very essence, a secretive, occult, mysterious and murderous offshoot of Christianity as it's meant to be practiced by normal Protestants, normal American Protestants, presumably.

I’m not a defender of the Faith. I’m not even a remotely religious person. But even I find this retarded action / mystery plot set in the Vatican offensive.

What offends my intellect the most is not just the pointless convolutions of the plot, not the horribly flat acting Tom Hanks perpetrates here, or the even worse leaden exposition that keeps getting dropped repeatedly on the audience’s brain like a boring anvil, or even that the Professor Robert Langdon character is one of the least believable fictional characters every created and committed to page or celluloid. What offends me is that it is all predicated on a fear of Catholics in general and the Vatican specifically.

That the Vatican has burned heretics and started wars and done various nefarious deeds over time is indisputable. That everything they do now puts their saintly organisation on a par with the KGB at its peak, only in a more clandestine and evil fashion, is hilarious to me. It originates from this perception, perhaps bias, that because a group doesn’t share every aspect of its history and existence with everyone, then it must be doing something evil.

There is a difference between something being obscure, and something being secret; a difference between something deliberately covered up, and something unknown by most people because they’re not interested in the subject matter. Brown has profited greatly from capitalising on being able to convince his readers that aspects of Renaissance history and that of the Catholic Church that they didn’t know anything about until reading his books point to an elaborate conspiracy whose greatest proof is that they’d previously known nothing about it. This is one’s own ignorance as proof of veracity or validity.

In other words, it’s pure horseshit relying on fear of the unknown as a catalyst. In this case the unknown is the Catholic Church, which has to be probably the least secret secret organisation I’ve ever heard of.

So if you think I’m overstating the case, explain to me why the police, the Swiss Guard who protect the pontiff and his various monsignors, prelates, primates and cardinals and pretty much everyone down to the clerks guarding the Vatican archives all act like shady villains from a James Bond film?

Maybe in Dan Brown’s stupid, stupid head, it’s all justifiable because the Catholics are so secretive, so mysterious and they secretly control all the world’s supplies of pasta. Maybe it’s because of all the pedo scandals and cover-ups. Maybe he’s actually doing them a favour, and diverting the ire of the wavering faithful with these apparent stabs at blasphemy from the real problems that confront the church and its adherents.

You know, like the fact that it’s all bullshit. Elaborate and historic bullshit, but bullshit nonetheless.

Whatever the reasons, the result is very popular and very profitable in book form. People like the pacing, the bits of esoteric history and the short chapters that always end on shocking twists and cliffhangers. In film form it’s an affront to the human dignity of every viewer, man woman and child.

I usually have zero problem with violence on film, but the violence in this flick is incredibly over the top. It’s almost pornographically orgiastic. It sits very strangely with the subject matter, I would have thought, but then I’m possibly confusing my genres.

Here I’ve rambled on oh-so-long and I’ve barely mentioned that this collection of drivel actually has a plot. It does have a plot. Not an even vaguely believable or sensible plot, but a plot all the same. The Pope, spiritual leader to a billion Catholics, is dead. Four cardinals, referred to as the Preferiti, or ‘the preferred’, tipped as papal favourites in the conclave elections, are kidnapped, apparently by the evil Illuminati, a group wanting revenge for something done centuries ago to their miserable members who conveniently stand for Science against the Catholic Church, which of course stands for all Religion.

At the same time, pointy headed scientists have created anti-matter at that giant supercollider somewhere in Switzerland. A beautiful Italian physicist looks on in joy as anti-matter is created, and then in horror as her supervisor, who happens to be a priest, has his eye ripped out to facilitate the theft of a bit of anti-matter.

What is anti-matter? Well, it’s the opposite of matter, and if it makes contact with matter, then it’s going to blow up everyone in the Vatican. Because, well, just because.

So, for reasons that make no sense at the beginning, and less sense at the end, the Vatican asks superbrain Professor Robert Langdon to help them find the anti-matter, and the cardinals, who someone vows to kill painfully each hour until midnight, before everyone is killed and the Catholic faith is deleted from the fabric of existence. At the same time the cardinals get together to elevate one of their number, led by Armin-Mueller Stahl, who does everything to obstruct our heroes, who are, preposterously, Tom Hanks and the Italian physicist woman. Needless to say, Langdon and Vittoria get along like a woman and her gay brother.

Ewan McGregor should be embarrassed for being in this film as the previous pope’s chamberlain, and for giving this terrible speech to the locked away cardinals which amounts to little more than “Science, Religion: why can’t we all just get along?” But saying to someone who starred in the three most recent Star Wars films that he should be embarrassed about something is kind of redundant.

They race around, and around, and around, as everyone but the actual villains act like villains, with the obvious being obscured only by the machinations of a straining story and the gullibility of an audience that should have worked out who was behind everything fifteen minutes into this too long flick. If I have to give anyone credit, it’s that as retarded as the plot of the film is, they at least excised even more risible and idiotic elements from the book, such as a guy with a wheelchair that has all sorts of James Bond gadgets in it, a sub-plot regarding papal artificial insemination (!), the Crusader-era Hashashin, someone surviving a fall from a great height into the Tiber River using a helicopter’s window cover as a parachute, and more uni-dimensional characters than you could shake several shit-covered sticks at.

Still, it retains the utter stupidity of one of the dumbest plots I’ve seen in a veritable age. The way in which the ultimate villain is undone is so, so fucking insulting, and even the villain’s purpose and plan is unspeakably American. Seeing someone leap from a helicopter using a parachute during a tremendous explosion is funny enough, but when you find out why such an act of derring-do was performed, what the intention was and who it was meant to impress, being cardinals sealed in a conclave, well, it makes you just want to cry tears like black rain.

Cry, or punch Dan Brown in his wealthy but atrophied nuts. Ron Howard has made some very good films, recently even, including Frost / Nixon. That the same guy made these two films is almost incomprehensible to me, unless there are actually two Ron Howards. One is the former star of Happy Days, and the other is an untalented, bathrobe wearing drunken impersonator who does the jobs Ron Howard doesn’t want to do but still does for the money. This is hackwork of the highest order which assumes a level of credulity or stupidity on an audience’s part that should (but doesn’t, considering the half billion this flick has made at the worldwide box office) insult anyone’s intelligence, whether they be Catholic, Shinto or Pastafarian.

This is shit. Its only virtue over its predecessor is that it isn’t as long. So in other words, it’s just as shit, there just isn’t as much of it this time. Bully for us.

3 times I want to brand the word ‘hack’ into Ron Howard’s chest out of 10

“Be careful, after all, these are men of God.” – Angels and Demons.