There’s possibly not enough room on the internet to explain the full plot of this impenetrable book, but here’s a dummy’s guide. The Pope’s been murdered and the four cardinals most likely to succeed him kidnapped by a shadowy, sinister sect called the Illuminati. They are threatening to kill one cardinal each hour then blow up Vatican City at midnight. How? Simples. By using a powerful anti-matter bomb they nicked from priestly scientists who had been constructing it to help find the ‘God’ particle.
If that doesn’t make any sense to you, don’t worry – it’s because it doesn’t make any sense.
Enter expert symbologist Tom Hanks, sporting the kind of hair only ever seen on Hollywood men of a certain age. (Yes, we’re talking about you, Nicholas Cage and Sly Stallone. Indeed, Cage coiffure-watching is almost a spectator sport these days – his hairline seems to bob backwards and forwards like the tide. And, as mentioned in this website’s review of The Expendables 2, it was often hard in that film to tell when Stallone was or wasn’t wearing a black woollen beret.)
The Hankster’s barnet here is a prime example of the ‘Hollywood hair’ form. It’s dark, it’s impressively lustrous, but not really like any recognisable follicle arrangement you and I have ever come across. It’s more like a hair-hat, really. And styled in a demi-mullet, no less.
Sad to report, the problems don’t end with mere tonsorial matters. There’s a fundamental flaw at the heart of this non-movie, which is thus: Angels and Demons is a plot-heavy, labyrinthine novel – virtually a puzzle, in fact – with next to no characterisation. As such, and it’s hard to overstate this point, it’s a terrible fit for film adaptation.
|Hanks' hair: an unrecognisable follicle arrangement|
For a deadening first hour, the pair simply rush from church to church, spouting saints’ names and other religious gobbledygook to each other. It’s literally impossible to keep track of what’s happening, and the scriptwriter was clearly as confused as anyone.
All this expository tomfoolery tips over into the absurd during a bizarre scene about half-way through. Tom (a peaceable academic, remember) enters a church to find a cardinal strung up and literally burning alive, then sees his cop friend viciously gunned down and only escapes the assassin’s bullets by diving into a scary, pitch-black cellar. Ye gods.
Finally rescued by the police, he stands in the wrecked church, bruised and battered, his dead cop friend at his feet and the smell of spit-roast cardinal heavy in the air.
So what does he do: collapse into tears? Crumple into a ball on the floor? Show the merest sign of emotion? Nope, he just says: “Right, we’re looking for a statue of a cross-eyed angel pointing westwards next to the Holy Chapel of Saint Badger…” (or something. I may paraphrase slightly) and bounds off to find the next clue.
And that’s it – no hint of upset or trauma: of anything, in fact. The truth is, there’s so little character to Hanks’ ‘character’ – and just so much plot to get through – that director Ron Howard has clearly thrown his hands up in the air and not even bothered to try.
So the whole thing is a (ahem) unholy shambles, but aerial conflagration enthusiasts are given a whiff of potential early on when Ewan MacGregor, dressed in a priestly cassock and with hands clasped in prayer, announces for no earthly reason whatsoever that he knows how to fly a helicopter.
cinematic CV has more turkeys than a Tesco refrigerated shelf in mid-December. But even by his own high standards, this is a colossally bad choice. He plays the Vatican’s Camerlengo, a top Vatican official who, following the Pope’s murder, is actually the acting Pope.
That means, after Obi Wan Kinobi, Nick Leeson and numerous other bad choices, we finally get Pope Ewan the First. Truly, the Lord does work in mysterious ways. No wonder Benedict resigned.
But what about that grinding plot? After an arse-numbing amount of time, the action does finally reach a climax of sorts. We’re in some catacombs! They’ve found the bomb! There just happens to be a helicopter parked outside St Peter’s! Pope Ewan is a trained pilot! Surely he’s not going to take off for the high skies with the bomb and sacrifice himself in a spectacular explosion? Oh, yes!
Given the chopper is already up beyond the clouds, the explosion itself takes the form of a night sky lighting up over the Vatican. The producers haven’t shirked on the tasteful CGI, and there’s something aesthetically pleasing about a ghostly light hovering over such a spiritual location. But then Pope Ewan suddenly ‘appears’ on a parachute and the whole thing turns unintentionally hilarious.
Exploding helicopter innovation
Exploding Helicopter has carefully checked the records, and there’s definitely not a previous entry under: holy man goes straight upwards in a bomb-laden chopper until it explodes, then unfeasibly drops back down on a flimsy piece of tarpaulin. That’s innovation in action, folks.
Scarcely the only entertainment to be gleaned from this mess comes from following the progression of MacGregor’s accent. In his introductory scene, he’s clearly aiming, badly, for an Irish accent, but five minutes later has fallen into the default Alec Guinness clipped English setting he uses for all non-Tartan outings.
A little later, he gets angry and it all goes a bit Trainspotting for a minute, but next thing he’s telling the Hankster ‘I was orphaned at nine years of age by a bombing in Ulster’ and suddenly it’s like the Reverend Ian Paisley has been given a five-minute cameo.
Ewan’s grandstand scene, when he appeals to all the cardinals for more understanding between religion and science, is in itself a model of inclusivity, containing as it does a rich array of accents – including, at one point, possibly Cornish.
Given the profundity of choice on offer here, it’s perhaps best to focus in on the single greatest error – namely, that someone showed Ron Howard the script for Angels and Demons.
“You’re talking about THE moment of creation…”
This fatuous line, pompously delivered by Hanks in his most sonorous tones, neatly captures all that is hammy and terrible about the movie.
This movie portrays the Catholic Church as a sinister and introverted organisation beset by deadly rivalries, which will stop at nothing to hide its dirty laundry from the public. So, entirely fictional, then.
Review by: Chopper
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