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Top of the Popes
A capsule film review of ANGELS & DEMONS by Camus
"I'm hoping this is a really great entertainment."
Director Ron Howard


So was I!


There are no spoilers in this review for a very specific reason. For the same reason, you may think this is not a fair and balanced review but you're going to have to wait until the last line to understand why... And no skipping to the end.

A confession. Seems appropriate.

I am a pop culture junkie. I read The Da Vinci Code and hooted with literary derision, in unison with fellow disbelievers; that is 'disbelievers' when it comes to literary merit, those who read it and placed it gingerly in the recycle bin afterwards and muttered "I don't believe this guy sold forty million copies of this trash." And the movie made $750 million. Kerrrist! It is, maybe, a good story, a fun story. Christ had descendants. Semi-interesting. It was written by a man who believes sub-text is what people say on the Red Oktober. It is not well written. It is not art. But it gripped millions of people who really need to get their grips somewhere else. And so I needed to read it.

To my credit or shame, I read all of Brown's books in a two week period and not one convinced me the man had any right to even deliver pizza to Ian McEwan. But. There's always a 'but'. There was an image in one of his books that captivated me in no way that can be described as good. I guffawed when I read it and I'm smiling at that memory right now. It was from (yes, you guessed it) his novel Angels and Demons. How many authors can come up with a premise so absurd, so delightfully ridiculous, that the mere words of description make me well up with awe that a man called Dan Brown walks this earth? Here is a brief description of the element of the climax to Angels and Demons that had me utterly transfixed.

A parachuting Pope.

Oh heavenly joy. Oh, rapture unconfined! I would (and did) pay top dollar to see a movie in which the Pope parachutes. That's right up there with Madonna washing up or Gandhi with nunchucks. This is an image the Catholic faithful have to see to confirm their niggling fears, that their lives have been predicated on all too fallible human law, not a divine presence guiding them to nirvana. Besides, they went off the boil since Kurt joined the choir invisible. I kid you not, the church outside my hotel room just started tolling bells. Don't you just love coincidences?

So what's the story? A sect known as the Illuminati has kidnapped four of the possible successors to the Pope. As the other senior primates sit in the Sistine Chapel to deliberate who's next to be god's representative on earth (oh, please), an American – well versed in symbols and ancient texts – is flown to Vatican City to figure out how to find this sect and stop them from doing their evil things. Of course, I'm on the Illuminati's side (except when it comes to branding and murder). Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) makes all the Roman Police and Vatican security look like idiots (isn't it always the way?). He finds the clues that lead him to discover where the first two priests are murdered and so starts a race against time to find an anti-matter bomb (stay with me) that's been stolen from the Cern Particle Collider laboratory in Switzerland.

Uh... OK. So I wait for the story to hook me. Nope. So I wait for the performances to persuade me I should take all this silliness seriously. Nope. So I wait for a brilliant director to ensnare me with his dazzling mise-en-scene. Nope. I suddenly had this epiphany in the cinema and it took the form of a question. The question was "Why in god's name was I still sitting down, letting this achingly dumb trash wash over me when I could be in my hotel room watching the sublime Tina Fey make me laugh in the third season of her lovely show, 30 Rock?"

You're getting there.

Angels and Demons (or the first hour at least) is a non-movie. It's a film that masquerades as a moving picture by dint of its moving pictures. It is as involving as a freshly painted wall with characters who employ your interest in the same way as tax returns. There is a feature of Dutch cinema that usually is an anathema to film appreciation. It's called the 'pauze' and to those bright sparks out there, this means 'pause' to sell you more sugar water and popcorn. I 'Hail Mary'ed' as this insufferable movie paused and with my movie going friend's consent (and he was asleep at the time I asked him) we left the cinema.

Angels and Demons, in my view, is a film that may or may not feature a parachuting Pope. But I'll have to wait to find out if that's so... I only watched an hour of it.

Angels & Demons

USA 2009
138 mins
Ron Howard
John Calley
Brian Grazer
Ron Howard
David Koepp
Akiva Goldsman
from the novel by
Dan Brown
Salvatore Totino
Dan Hanley
Mike Hill
Hans Zimmer
production design
Allan Cameron
Tom Hanks
Ewan McGregor
Ayelet Zurer
Stellan Skarsgård
Pierfrancesco Favino
Nikolaj Lie Kaas
Armin Mueller-Stahl
Thure Lindhardt
release date (UK)
14 May 2009
review posted
23 May 2009

See all of Camus's reviews