Angels & Demons (2009) -vs- The Da Vinci Code (2006)

BONUS REVIEW: In addition to our review by Mark Sanchez, Movie Smackdown! is also publishing this review of Angeles & Demons -vs- The Da Vinci Code by Rodney Twelftree.

Rodney Twelftree, Contributing WriterThe Smackdown

The Catholic Church is beset with problems in these two films based on the best-selling novels by Dan Brown. On one side, a secret order threatening to uncover the greatest secret in the history of the world, and render the Church obsolete. On the other, another secret (and long thought extinct) brotherhood threatening to blow up Vatican City. Yep, somebody has it bad for the Pope, and it’s up to an American University lecturer to save the day.

So settle back, say a few Hail Marys, and prepare to enter the world of Robert Langdon, the world’s smartest symbologist.

The Challenger

When a capsule of highly unstable antimatter is stolen from a Swiss research facility, and placed somewhere in Vatican City where it will explode in 12 hours, the hunt begins for the deadly payload before there’s simply a hole left where Rome used to be. Add to that the fact that four Cardinals have been kidnapped from Papal Conclave on the eve of voting for a new Pope, and you have a mystery wrapped up inside an enigma right at the very heart of Christian beliefs. Robert Langdon, Dan Brown’s highly intelligent hero we saw in the film version of “The Da Vinci Code,” returns in this sequel to the film considered to be highly controversial…. no, not “The Passion Of The Christ.” “Angels & Demons” sees director Ron Howard re-team with Tom Hanks, producer Brian Grazer and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman to present a race against time tale set within Vatican City, in the second of Brown’s novels to come to the screen.

The Defending Champion

The most controversial novel of the new millennium, “The Da Vinci Code” was always going to be made into a film. Pity the film wasn’t as controversial as the novel. Awash with iconography and the same zeal of theological pronouncements as the novel on which it’s based, “The Da Vinci Code” thundered onto cinema screens in 2006 destined for comparisons to “The Passion Of The Christ” in terms of religious controversial polling. Rather than dwell on the hysteria surrounding the book and the film at the time of it’s release, we thought we’d simply take a look at the film in it’s most broad sense, without wishing to prejudice those who seek to make more of this film/book than there is already. We won’t be going into the deep and meaningful ramifications of what the book intimates as a conspiracy by the Vatican to cover up the true history behind Christ and his divinity. That’s a debate best left for another forum.

The Scorecard

The controversy surrounding Dan Brown’s novel “The Da Vinci Code” has become almost larger than the story itself: the mythical religious overtones and conspiracies within conspiracies seemingly thrust randomly into a gung-ho storyline with barely a pause for breath, have sold millions of copies of Browns work and have become the fodder for debate around the world. Simply put, “The Da Vinci Code” was, and still is, a work of fiction. And to try and make some sort of argument about the fallacies spread by the early Christian church is to give Brown more credence than he really deserves. This article will not try and dissuade you from your thoughts on the novel version of this story, although we will occasionally dip into that controversy when the need arises for the purposes of the review.

“The Da Vinci Code,” as written by Dan Brown, told a story of University professor Robert Langdon becoming involved in a quest to find the Holy Grail, supposedly the cup used by Christ to drink from during the Last Supper. When a curator at the Louvre Museum in Paris is found murdered, Robert is implicated when his name is scrawled in blood by the body. The Chief of Police, who points the blame on Langdon, forces the professor to try and solve the crime himself, when Landgon uses his knowledge of symbols and art to uncover a series of clues that point to a more subversive conspiracy underway; to reveal to the world a secret supposedly kept buried by the Catholic church for centuries that would change history as we know it. Langdon is joined in his quest to solve the riddles by Sophie Neveu, granddaughter of the murdered man, and herself a cryptologist with French police. Together, they are pursued across France and England as they seek to resolve the mystery. Along the way, they meet up with Langdon’s long-time friend, Leigh Teabing, a man who has studied Grail lore most of his life, and who now provides them with significant clues to help them on their way.

Also on the search for the Grail is an albino assassin named Silas, who has no hesitation in killing to achieve his goals. As Silas gets closer to Langdon and Neveu, the danger only increases, as the secret of the Grail is eventually uncovered, and the ultimate enemy is revealed.

The main thrust of the controversy, for those seeking enlightenment on that score, is that supposedly, the Church kept secret for hundreds of years the fact that Christ was thought to have been a mortal man, not the divine son of God, and that his divinity was decided by the Council of Nicaea, way back in the early Christian times. Also secret was the fact that he bore offspring, to the woman Mary Magdalene (who, in the Bible, is described as a sinful woman, a polite way of describing a prostitute), a fact that could undermine the faith of millions of people around the world. The Church has always maintained the divinity of Jesus, and to have this proved false would be catastrophic for the Christian faith. Or so the book goes. Whether you subscribe to Christianity or not, you can still understand why so many people would be upset with these “facts” as Dan Brown calls them, in the preface to his book.

Director Ron Howard makes dreadful use of the Parisian and London locations, many of which were filmed on the actual sites, some of which were studio sets of incredible detail. While the novel takes place over a highly compressed period of time, Howard is less accommodating when dealing with the time-frame for this film; perhaps justifiably so. Paris at night looks for all the world like any other city, save the iconic Eiffel Tower and the looming facade of the Louvre, giant glass pyramid included. Having been there myself, it truly is among the most beautiful cities in the world, but Howard barely seems to focus on it at times, which is frustratingly annoying. But when he finally does give us an iconic shot of the great city, it it tremendously emotional.

But Howard has struck a problem with “The Da Vinci Code,” that after reading the book I didn’t think wouldbe a problem. The film is a ponderous, emotionless affair with very little actual tension; a stark contrast to Brown’s original novel, which moves at a cracking pace and barely gives you time to take a breath. Screenwriter Akiva Goldsman managed to suck the life from the novel in his script, even though the film follows the book almost scene for scene. Some novelized moments are compressed, and characters changed slightly to become more “cinematic”, however, the emotional impact the novel carried with it (regardless of controversy) is lacking from the cinema version. It’s just so un-charismatic, so unemotional, it’s hard to understand why. The story should work, and the pacing is pretty much spot on with the book. Perhaps it’s the “man on the run” style of film this is, with Langdon being pursued across Europe. Which is unlike “Angels & Demons,” as that story is a “countdown to doom” scenario, and effortlessly more thrilling. But still, even with the tension of having the police after him, Langdons journey through Grail legend is stilted, bizarrely uninteresting.

Casting wise, this film is sublimely good. Leading the way is the ever-solid Tom Hanks, and his performance here as Langdon is faultless. The only problem I had with him wasn’t anything to do with his portrayal of the University professor, but more for the lack of depth the script gave him: Landgon is a two dimensional character trying desperately to be a 3 dimensional one, and although Hanks, Howard and Goldsman try, they can’t escape the fact that not even the source material gives up much info on the brainiac. A mention of Langdon’s temporary incarceration at the bottom of a well during his childhood explains his claustrophobia, which comes on in an awkwardly scripted moment and feels for all the world like the filmmakers were trying to give Langdon more depth as a character. Unfortunately, Langdon’s character exists simply to spout copious reams of dialog regarding various legends, stories and conspiracies depending on the circumstances, and that’s repeated here in the film.

Audrey Tautou, who was utterly captivating in “Amelie,” still appeals here, yet is hamstrung like Hanks in terms of her characters’ depth and motivation. Tautou plays Sophie, the French cryptologist whose Grandfather is murdered, and who takes off with Langdon to uncover the reason he died, and the secret of the Grail. Sophie Neveu, as a character, has substantial character depth and motivation, especially the link between her and her grandfather, however, Howard somehow, and I can’t explain it, makes her almost as interesting as wooden underwear. Her childhood is relived through a series of flashbacks, which grow ever more clear as the film progresses, and this is scene for scene straight from the book. But the emotional nuances Brown’s novel espoused are lost in translation here, Tautou delivering a lip-quivering performance that generates virtually no interest from the viewer. It’s simply gobsmacking.

Another solid performer who gets a raw deal here is capable French acting legend Jean Reno. As the bullish chief of French Police, Captain Fache, he gets to scowl and grimace at the camera a lot as he pursues Langdon and Neveu through France. But his character is as wooden as the rest of the film, Reno merely saying the lines and trying not to walk into the furniture, to use the old theater vernacular. He generates no interest, no character tone (good or bad) and this makes generating tension virtually impossible for Ron Howard. Again, it’s not Reno’s fault, but the script offers nothing in the way of development. The book had some great lines about Fache’s character, but they’ve been eliminated in Goldsmans script. Perhaps the two actors who fare the best in this whole thing are Paul Bettany as Silas, and Ian McKellan as Teabing. Bettany is positively creepy as a character, the albino bad-guy getting it’s first decent look into cinema since William Frankfather’s chilling turn in Goldie Hawn’s “Foul Play.” Bettany imbues Silas with the malevolence and tortured soul the character needs; Silas is a broken man reborn into a world filled with evil, his body owned by God and controlled by a man known only a “The Teacher”, who instructs him in his mission to find the Grail. And McKellan, fresh from Gandalf and Magneto, delivers another sterling portrayal of a man infatuated with his life’s passion: this time, Grail lore. Teabing is a crucial figure in “The Da Vinci Code,” and McKellan’s sleight of hand performance will have caught many off guard.

It’s really hard to pin down exactly why this film is so… well, flat. There’s no energy in it, a weird thing to say considering the fabulously dense source material. Comparatively speaking, the film follows the book closely, barely deviating from scene to scene, so you’d think a rapid-fire novel like this would have translated well onto the screen. But it doesn’t, and this time I can’t even fault screenwriter Goldsman, for he’s simply transposed the book across, and who could blame him. Why change a good thing, you’d ask yourself. Perhaps the biggest problem with Dan Brown’s book is that the sheer volume of information imparted would be catastrophic on screen: it’s filled with layer upon layer of explanation that, for a screenplay, reads like death. Goldsman does a workmanlike job of getting the script filled with the essential elements of the story, the key components that keep things moving along, and give an audience unfamiliar with the book a fighting chance.

But moments miss their mark. When Langdon and Neveu arrive in a French park to discuss the plot (essential to keep an audience up with them) they run into some junkies, and after a couple of long glances, the junkies move on. The moment passes, and the audience begins to wonder what the significance of it is. Why the serious glancing? Is this junkie going to come back and mug them? The moment isn’t resolved, and it’s among the bulk of unresolved moments that dot the film generally.

That, coupled with a lack of action-energy, which is strange coming from Ron Howard, makes “The Da Vinci Code” a somewhat labored experience. While I never saw the theatrical edition in cinemas, I was fortunate to have a copy of the Extended Edition on DVD lent to me to take a look. After watching it, I came to a curious conclusion. If I’d just seen the extended version, and I was unimpressed, what worried me more was the fact that I had no idea what could be removed to improve it. Normally you can pick out “extended” moments in films because they don’t really add anything other than perhaps “ambiance” to a film (obviously, there are exceptions to this rule, such as “Lord Of The Rings,” and James Cameron’s “Aliens”) but here, every moment appeared to be needed, every scene essential to the one following it: it’s a diabolical problem Ron Howard had in terms of pacing and structure.

“The Da Vinci Code” made the bulk of it’s money from the flow-on effect of the book’s controversy: there’s no denying that. You’d be hard pressed to find anybody who hadn’t read the book that didn’t either hate it (it is badly written, I’ll admit) or love it (count me in) for it’s breathless enthusiasm for a good story and sheer un-put-downableness (I think I just coined a new word, as well as set a personal parenthesis in a sentence record) and to find this film such a disappointment is, frankly, disappointing. The story of the “Code” is such a good one, regardless of personal belief or any sense of truthfulness (the Priory of Scion, which the book embellishes, was found to be a hoax back in the 60’s, and the film states as much in a single line of dialog) that you dearly wish the film was more energetic, more powerful. It simply limps along, hamstrung by an impossibly high expectation from book-lovers, and undone by lack of character development. Ron Howard cannot be faulted for his presentation of the story, after all, it’s the book on screen in the most obvious way. The fault must lie with the lack of depth Dan Brown gives these characters, because without any sort of background, we’re dealing with cardboard cutouts, and that’s not interesting at all.

Written before the much commented-upon “Da Vinci Code,” yet filmed as a sequel, “Angels & Demons” is yet another delving into religious conspiracy and aspects of dogma and history that make for such great dramatic fodder. While perhaps not as controversial as it’s successor, “Angels & Demons” is Dan Browns introduction to Robert Langdon, the University scholar who becomes involved in a mystery (don’t we all?) involving antimatter, Vatican City, and the Papal Conclave. I remember reading “Angels & Demons” on a plane back from a trip to Europe, the book was so fast paced and engrossing that I couldn’t put it down, even though the dialog was inordinately clunky, and large lapses in logic had to occur for things to move forward within the context of the book. The book itself is a breathless thriller which never ceases, almost to the last page, and if you’re anything like me you won’t be able to help being drawn in to the story.

However, the film is an entirely different beast. And it’s not as I imagined.

When the film version of “The Da Vinci Code” was released back in 2006, there was much consternation among religious zealots and extremists for people not to see the film, not so much for objectionable content in regards to violence or anything like that, but for the themes of blasphemy that the film, taken directly from the book, espoused. With “Angels & Demons,” the hoopla of the film being made was virtually non-existent. At least, here in Australia, there was almost no advertising of promotion of the film to the extent accorded to “Da Vinci Code.” Which was surprising, since both books dealt with quite serious matters of faith and the power of the Church over its flock. And while”Da Vinci” dealt almost exclusively with the fact that Jesus Christ may not have been the divine being Christians have been told he was, and that he had children, “Angels & Demons” threatened to blow the lid on God himself, a much bigger fish, if you’ll pardon the Christian analogy. So why then did “Angels & Demons” swim almost unheard of through cinemas and out onto DVD with nary a glimmer of controversy? Perhaps we’d all become weary of Dan Browns “revelations” to the point that we simple chose to ignore them? Hardly an excuse, I wouldn’t think, although “Angels & Demons” does bear to be scrutinized for what it is: a simple, brutally exciting exercise in religiously themed convolution, full of intrigue and deception at even the highest levels of the Catholic Church.

“Angels & Demons” is set almost exclusively in Vatican City, as well as a small part of old Rome. The novel’s variant includes Robert Langdon being whisked to CERN, a top secret scientific facility in Switzerland, prior to traveling to Rome; in the film, he’s whisked directly to the Vatican. The film version of the story precludes any preamble about Robert Langdon; this, after all, is a sequel, and assumes you’re one of the millions of people who saw “The Da Vinci Code.” Like “Da Vinci,” “Angels & Demons” story begins almost immediately, with the death of a scientist in CERN and the theft of a canister of highly unstable substance known as antimatter: held within the canister it’s quite safe, although should the battery holding it in stasis fail, the resulting explosion would destroy a large section of the Earth before the day was out. The battery on the canister, we learn, will expire within 12 hours. There, that’s the time-frame. Everything else is secondary, as far as we’re concerned. Robert Langdon is summoned to the Vatican to identify and assist in the recovery of four kidnapped Cardinals, who we learn are due to be involved in the Papal Conclave (the choosing of the next Pope, since the last one has just passed away) before going missing. The only clue is a fax sent to the Vatican with the word “Illuminati” written on it. Langdon, together with the scientific partner of the murdered CERN scientist, Vittoria Vetra, must uncover the secret of the Illuminati, a secret scientific organization persecuted by the early Church and eventually driven underground, in order to locate the missing Cardinals, find the secretly hidden anti-matter bomb, and save Rome from complete annihilation.

Having read the novel, it’s great to be able to sit back and watch how the filmmakers decided to deviate from Brown’s text (which would have been largely unfilmable in a direct way) and create a workable story from it. To be honest, screenwriters David Koepp (who penned “Jurassic Park,” “Stir Of Echoes,””Panic Room,” “Spider-Man,” Spielberg’s “War Of The Worlds,” and the most recent take on “Pelham 123”) and Akiva Goldsman (responsible for travesties like “Batman & Robin,” “Lost In Space” and “Deep BlueSea,” as well as Oscar winners “A Beautiful Mind,” “I Robot” and “Cinderella Man”) have taken Brown’s story and tried to inject some cinematic sensibilities to it. Much of the talky dialog for which Brown is renowned has been pared back to the barest of minimums, only the most pertinent information required to get the point across. The problem with the “Angels & Demons” script is that it’s unable to handle such a paring back of Brown’s story. Brown’s depth of research (accurate or not) is so important to the novel as a whole that without context and explanation, the whole thing falls a little flat. Unfortunately, Goldsman and Koepp have failed to incorporate that incredible detail into a script that’s coherent and exciting. Especially interesting is the way they’ve tried to shoehorn Brown’s dialog heavy story, in which characters expound us with so much clunky exposition, into an adequately descriptive screenplay. I often tried to visualize people actually saying some of the things Dan Brown writes, and found that, like “The Da Vinci Code” as well, it’s laughably incredible.

The film flounders through it’s first twenty minutes, barely giving us any relevant information and simply showing moments that we subliminally know we should be paying attention to. And what information ispassed onto us as viewers is so quickly delivered, so flippantly relayed from the brain of Langdon that it’s almost an afterthought that the filmmakers should deign to keep us up to speed with what’s happening. Procedural moments in the Vatican, including the vote for a new Pope, the traditions and events surrounding Conclave, are glossed over quite briefly, if they’re included at all, in some instances. My wife, Lisa, watched the film with me, and she hadn’t read the book; consequently, she continued to ask me questions to clarify exactly what was happening. I took the view that had I not been already familiar with the novel, I myself would have been bamboozled as well. Vatican preamble might have been appropriate for those people not familiar with Catholic tradition. Regardless, assuming people watching the film have read the book is an almost fatal mistake.

Ron Howard himself has directed some masterful movies in his time, as his status as an A-List director will attest. But, like all of them, he’s also made some dogs. “Far and Away,” “The Missing” (which many thought was quite good, actually bored me to death) and “The Da Vinci Code” all managed to miss the mark, and I had hoped after “Da Vinci” that Howard had found his mojo again. “Cinderella Man,” “Beautiful Mind,” “Frost/Nixon,” all brilliant films that were driven primarily by character, and succeeded magnificently. “Da Vinci Code,” which was about as far from character driven as you can get, and “Angels & Demons,” which used the same structure, were storytelling failures from a director normally adept at crafting a story out of the smallest detail. Ron Howard’s ability to direct a frenetic story like “Angels & Demons” was limited to a simple case of editing and pacing. I don’t think he “got” it. The film lacks the zing it so desperately needs, similarly to the problem encountered with”Da Vinci Code.” His heart just doesn’t appear to be in it.

So what’s good about “Angels & Demons” as a film? First, the appearance of Tom Hanks and Ewan McGregor add significant enthusiasm to the viewing experience, their acting chops going a long way to the credibility of the picture. Poor Hanks has yet again been dudded in the character development stakes, mainly due in part to Dan Brown’s insistence on not providing anything but the barest detail on Robert Langdon in both his novels featuring this character so far. Moments in the book, particularly Langdon’s Mickey Mouse watch, are barely touched upon in the film, moments that could really enhance the character more than a simple “you are a symbols expert” sentence, which is about all the development we are afforded in Hanks’ portrayal. McGregor, the chief aide to the former Pope, is known by his label as the camerlengo, a mouthful of a title if ever there was one. McGregor gives a nuanced, effortless performance of a man in a high stress situation, however, as with Hanks, is criminally undone by a lack of motivation and depth of character. His performance is rewarded with a particularly stirring speech to the assembled Cardinals in Conclave, in which he asks that they put aside their worldly problems and restore the church to it’s past glory; it is a moment of real power in a film largely devoid of it. It’s not entirely McGregors fault, since the script deviates somewhat from the novel in the camerlengo’s narrative, and neither Goldsman nor Koepp afford the character anything more than a simple, inelegant back-story that does nothing to broaden our understanding of the situation.

Scripting aside, Ron Howards use of location is pretty consistent with Browns novel; the magnificent backdrop of Rome and Vatican City provides a great setting for the story, even if the majority of the film was shot on enormous sets at a back-lot in Hollywood. The digital effects used to generate the interior of monolithic structures like St Peter’s Basilica and other monuments inside Rome (including the Pantheon, which is perhaps the least impressive effects shot in the film) are reasonably cool, although they still retain a little “Star Wars”-prequel feel to them in their “fakeness”… sorry, but there’s no other word for it. Generally, though, the effects work is first rate, adding to the moody, atmospheric feel the film has.Perhaps the best part of “Angels & Demons” is the use of Hans Zimmers musical themes from “Da Vinci Code,” which make a welcome and subtle return here. Zimmer is among the highest caliber of film composers working today, although some of his most recent work has tended to become slightly repetitive and boring (although, I might add, his score to “The Dark Knight” is simply brilliant!). Here, however, Zimmer brings a kind of circular theme to the film, a link to the previous movie while remaining new and fresh here again. There wasn’t as much oratorio or choral work in the score, as I had imagined there would be for a film set in the most famous church in all of Christendom. What Zimmer does manage to do effortlessly is bring a sense of restrained power to his score, some haunting melodies and themes permeating the fabric of the movie that seems to exist almost ethereally, rather than forcefully like many of the composers’ other recent scores.

If that’s the good, where does “Angels & Demons” go wrong?

To begin with, the first fifteen, twenty minutes or so of the film are flat-out boring, a concoction of barely coherent techno-babble and flim-flammery, in which the major players of the film are briefly introduced (or not introduced, as the case of Vittoria may be…. more on this in a moment) and events are set in motion. It’s the kind of film-making that assumes you’ve read the book and know what’s going on. And that’s bad film-making folks, because for those coming in cold, you’ll be struggling to keep up with what’s happening. There’s a subtle difference between explaining things to an audience in an intelligent and cinematic way, and simply browbeating people over the head with information and hoping they get it. Here, it’s the former, and it’s hard as heck to keep up with things happening so fast. One moment we’re in Switzerland, watching Vittoria tread around her partners eye on the floor (don’t ask),  and the next we’re standing eyeball to eyeball with the chief of the Swiss Guard, waiting for Langdon to gain access to the super-secret Vatican Archives, a place nobody gets to go into save written mandate from the Pontiff himself.

Entire characters from the novel are overlooked for the film, including the massively emotional hook that the scientist murdered at the beginning is actually Vittoria’s father. This fact is never mentioned in the film, and as a result, the logic as to why Vittoria, whose character is never really developed, is even involved in the film, is missing. Vittoria is essentially a nameless cypher, a character in the film who exists simply as a foil for Langdon, and not a very good one at that. Her opening scene, in which she and her “father” generate anti-matter, is confusing, unexplained, and mysteriously devoid of development. Poor Ayelet Zurer, who plays Vittoria, must be given kudos for at least tryingto make her character as human as possible, but within the confines of such an enormous storyline, she didn’t ever have much hope of being more than a simple cypher. In the book, Vittoria is a much more developed character (although barely at the same level as Langdon himself, which isn’t saying much) yet here, she’s simply an appendage, a way for the story to transition from one moment to another by having her simply run up, spout some illogical scientific mumbo-jumbo, before running off again. It’s annoying, and demeaning to the viewer.

A central character from CERN itself, the man who runs the whole shebang, is removed from the film completely. Maxmillian Kohler, the snappy, belligerent man in charge at CERN, plays a pivotal role in getting Langdon involved, and motivates the events that follow throughout the novel. His role is moved to others in the film, although this lack of pivotal antagonist leaves a void in the film overall. The catalyst, rather than being the hunt for the bomb, is refocused by Howard and the screenplay to more involve the hunt for the missing Cardinals. Given that the emotional hook to the Cardinals, and their plight, is badly developed in the script, this mutes any feelings we have to the emergency thrillers aspect the film tries to engender. Without Kohlers presence in the film, the novels twist ending is reorganized by Howard, Goldman and Koepp into a hodgepodge of sideways glances, illogical story progression, and ill-advised modifications.

There are other, smaller, modifications to the story in its film version that don’t impact overall, and truthfully, save the aforementioned removal of Mr Kohler, the novel and film follow each other closely. The more incredible aspects of the novel, such as Robert Langdon’s surviving a fall from great height after the explosion of the helicopter he’s riding in, have been excised from the film, which is a positive note. The novel uses a narrative involving the media (assembled for the Conclave result) to further the plot and to generate even more tension, and while there are glimpses of media scrums in the Vatican in the film, this story point has also been excised from the film version. Perhaps to it’s detriment. However, it is the films conclusion, which removes the more religiously ethereal aspects of the novels closing chapters, that is perhaps the weakest moment. Controversial moments in the novel, in which it’s revealed the late Pope bore a son (thanks to genetic manipulation; science, as it were) as well as the argument regarding science trying to diminish God as an entity, and explain all things scientifically, are either lost or minimized in the film version, and this in itself diminishes the emotional weight of the movie overall. The concepts Brown unloaded upon the reader, thus giving the book some authoritarian leverage, are crucial to the films momentum, and rather than try and expand the narrative to make the ethics, morals and religious implications of the affairs involved in the novelized version pertinent here too, the filmmakers seemed to side with simply action and simple “conspiracy” theories that, after a while, begin to wear thin. If you’re going to eliminate the crucial motivations for “why” everything occurs, then you’re essentially producing an empty shell of a story and giving the audience nothing to emotionally invest in. And that results in a wafer-thin film with limited appeal. It’s barely coherent, a convoluted mess cinematically, and this is the most disappointing part about it all. The reason everything happens becomes lost in so much noise, explosions and gunfire. The “why” is lost, leaving only a “huh?”.

Simply put, the film has missed out crucial elements of Brown’s original story, and this hamstrings any originality the film may have possessed had it been more faithful to the novel. I’ll admit to enjoying Dan Brown’s novels purely on an entertainment and escapist basis, and I had high hopes for this film effort after the lackluster “Da Vinci Code.” Unfortunately, I feel that the mark has again been missed, although the film still earned enough to ensure the next Brown tome, The Lost Symbol, will also be made into a movie. “Angels & Demons” will entertain purely on a superficial level, if not for the exceedingly cool Hanks getting about Rome and the Vatican showing off, then for the loving way Rome herself has been captured by Ron Howards loving lens. Bot for those looking for a more detailed story, a provocative or controversial affair that we have now come to expect from Dan Brown, then this film version of “Angels & Demons” will leave you wanting.

The Decision

Now that the initial hubbub over Dan Brown’s “Da Vinci” opus had died down, and people have gone back to being normal again, we can look upon both religiously themed films with relatively clear and unfettered eyes. Both films suffer from a bad transition from book to screen, in terms of scripting and energy. They’re fairly good examples of Hollywood fare, both try and develop escapist storylines to drag you into their own worlds, their logic and “fact” based ephemera seemingly designed to spark controversy.

Both films, however, are misfires, and while I struggle to determine the root cause of it in both instances, I think it’s the fact that by adhering to Brown’s stories too closely, they’ve become stale and less “cinematic”. Peter Jackson, by comparison, wasn’t adverse to making changes to Tolkiens “Lord Of The Rings,” as long as the story called for it and the emphasis was on character, rather than plot; we all know how that film trilogy turned out. With both “Angels & Demons” and “The Da Vinci Code,” Ron Howard has, I think, tried to remain too close to the source material, and as a result, delivered less than satisfactory results. The characters in both films are singularly uninteresting, they lack depth and emotion, and the stakes they play for are so high you’d think we’d have more to invest in.

I think Ron Howard learnt the tough lessons from “Da Vinci Code” when making his follow-up, and “Angels & Demons” certainly delivers more in the frenetic, discombobulating pacing: but the characters are still hollow, and for this reason, I only award Angels & Demons the knockdown based upon a classier, less convoluted script and a better cinematic style. You could miss both films and it won’t effect your life in any way.


About Rodney Twelftree 25 Articles
Rodney is Movie Smackdown‘s Man Down Under. He’s a proud Aussie who, unlike that other famous Aussie film guy named after a reptile, does not wear a leather hat, carry a big knife or wander about in the Outback. He lives in Adelaide, South Australia and, with all the time he saves by not wandering in the Outback, he watches movie after movie. Then he writes about them because telling everyone individually what his opinions are would be too time consuming. Rodney spends a great deal of his time justifying why he enjoys Michael Bay movies.

3 Comments on Angels & Demons (2009) -vs- The Da Vinci Code (2006)


  1. My father used to tell me the main reason why people of any belief get into a frenzy when someone question’s their religion is that they have doubts in their faith. Its like an insult, it only hurts when it IS true. Other than that one should be able to shrug it off and carry on.
    I saw the Davinci Code and really didnt care about all the symbolism as it pertained to Christianity… however the movie was intriguing enough to watch, I took it more like a good detective movie… nothing more.
    Angels & Demons felt a bit more like driving a convertable car down a scenic slope… a nice ride but nothing really outstanding.
    Both films I couldnt get into the characters… they seemed too one dimensional. So Ill have to agree with the original poster and go with Angels & Demons… my reason mainly because I liked the title better. Superficial reason? Yes. But so are the films.


  2. Discussion is fine. And we have free speech in this country, thank God. And people will continue to make movies that contradict – either subtly or blatantly – what the majority of Christians believe. That comes with living on this planet…


  3. Ron Howard needs to stop directing these films before he destroys his career.

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