The Daily Stream: 'Angels & Demons' is Pulpy Trash, and I Mean That as a Compliment
(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching, why it’s worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)
The Movie: Angels & Demons
Where You Can Stream It: Netflix
The Pitch: In this sequel to The Da Vinci Code, Tom Hanks must once again solve highly implausible historical mysteries. This time, though, he has a ticking clock: a terrorist is threatening to unleash a vial of antimatter (don’t ask) somewhere in Rome.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: Sometimes you want a fine meal, and sometimes you want to eat absolute junk that’s bad for you. Angels & Demons is the latter.
The Da Vinci Code was a huge bestseller, so it was only a matter of time before Hollywood came calling. And sure enough, Ron Howard ended up directing Tom Hanks in an adaptation of the hit book. But there was a problem: Howard and company treated The Da Vinci Code like some sort of prestige picture instead of the pulpy, fun trash it should’ve been. Everything about The Da Vinci Code is deathly serious, to the point where it feels like the movie is screaming “TAKE ME SERIOUSLY!”
Thankfully, Howard gave up all pretense of seriousness with Angels & Demons. Technically, Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons takes place before Da Vinci, but that’s been changed here. Now, Tom Hanks’ Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is on the Catholic Church’s shit list because he helped expose that Jesus has living descendants. Which means the Church is very resistant to call in Langdon when they run into a problem involving kidnapped cardinals and a terrorist who claims to be a member of the mysterious group The Illuminatti. But, like a Batman villain, the terrorist has left a bunch of historical clues all over Rome and Vatican City, and only Robert Langdon can solve those clues, damn it!
To up the stakes, the terrorist also has a vial of antimatter that, when released, would result in a near-apocalyptic catastrophe. Can Langdon save the kidnapped cardinals and stop the bomb? What do you think? On top of all that, the Pope has recently died, which means millions of people have gathered outside the Vatican waiting to see who will be elected the new Pope.
As you can probably tell, all of this is very stupid. But what makes Angels & Demons so fun is that everyone seems to know it’s stupid. Nothing here is even remotely plausible, and that’s fine. Movies like this should embrace their stupidity; they should lean into the pulpy hacky trash and have fun with it, and there’s plenty of fun to be had here. Tom Hanks is such a pro that even he’s able to make goofball lines like “I need a map of every church in Rome!” work. Also having fun is Ewan McGregor, playing the Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church. In real life, the camerlengo deals with fiscal administration, but the movie makes it seem like anyone in that role is like the Pope’s Vice President.
I’ll try to avoid spoilers here in case you haven’t seen this masterpiece, but I need to tell you about one scene that officially sold me on this entire ball of nonsense. At one point, McGregor’s character climbs into a helicopter and flies it himself. Because I guess this random cardinal knows how to fly. McGregor flies the chopper straight up into the sky above the Vatican. At some point, the helicopter explodes! But McGregor survives! Because he has a parachute! Yes, he parachuted out of a helicopter, and he clumsily floats down to the ground, smashing into buildings along the way, as all the faithful gathered at the Vatican gaze up in awe. It’s one of the goofiest things I’ve ever seen in a major blockbuster, and it’s amazing.
Whatever silly magic inhabits Angels & Demons appears to be a fluke. Because Hanks and Howard tried to do this again with one more movie, Inferno, but failed to recreate the pulpy mayhem on display here. Oh well. We’ll always have the parachuting priest.
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