Oy with the Photoshop.
After seeing the trailer, we thought Angels & Demons might be stupid and fun. Halfway into the film, we worried that it might be dangerously, possibly even destructively stupid and definitely not fun. Finishing the film, we concluded that (1) yes, it was pretty stupid, but not dangerously so, and (2) it was not fun.
Usually trashy Vatican corruption stories are fun. At least, for us (insert heathen disclaimer). See, for example, the story of Pope Alexander VI and his illegitimate son, Cesare Borgia (who, by the way, was made a Cardinal at 18, led the Papal Armies and was Machievelli's inspiration for The Prince). We at the PPCC have a strong Italian component in our DNA, and this provokes a tendency in us to wallow in Renaissance history as (1) the height of good aesthetics and Italian culture, and (2) tabloid-style, Papal corruption. But we can't always party like it's 1492. And there comes a time - namely, today - when we have to admit that maybe it's over. The Holy See is just not the significant political force it used to be, with all the accompanying Machiavellian machinations that drive us social scientists wild. Sure, Catholics around the world by definition still look to the Pope for spiritual guidance. But, in a multicultural, globalized world where the Mediterranean is no longer a political and economic center, most non-Catholics don't really care what the Vatican says or does anymore. Similarly, Italy is more and more being described as "beautiful, but useless" by Italians in films and amongst our homies. Alas. The days of decadent power and significance are gone.
Exploring the remaining cultural artifacts and rituals, however, is still pretty interesting.
Angels & Demons, however, seems to refuse to accept this post-Renaissance, post-Vatican reality. It attempts to smoosh together cosmological significance and political provocativeness by constructing an elaborate "war" between science - represented by CERN's Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland - and religion - represented by the Vatican. (Umm, all you other scientists and people from different religions need not apply. These two representatives have got everyone covered.) Of course, the fact that in reality the CERN scientists probably don't care what the Vatican does, the Vatican doesn't care what the CERN people do, and most people don't care about either doesn't seem to figure. Instead, based on this increasingly flimsy premise, we're supposed to believe that:
(1) Dropping anti-matter can spark an explosion somewhere between an atomic one and the Big Bang. More towards Big Bang. (Uh... dammit, man, we're a blog, not a physicist, but huh?)
(2) Radical anti-Vatican science-fundamentalist revival groups are allegedly wreaking havoc in Rome in order to... actually, the plot lost us on this one. Why all the trouble again? It had something to do with avenging Galileo.
(3) The only way to stop the havoc and the mini-Big Bang 2.0 is through the cunning deployment of ace Harvard symbologist, Robert Langdon (an aging, but still lovable, Tom Hanks).
We would accept this, well, stupid premise on the agreement that we would be given either hotties or action in return. We did get some hotties - specifically, Italian actor Pierfrancesco Favini, Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård (looking old too, but hotness relatively undiminished... especially in that trim, well-cut suit! v. flattering), and, most of all, Ewan McGregor channeling a sort of demented Obi-Wan Kenobi in a priest's suit. Looking v.v. good, Ewan!
Hottie #1: Pierfrancesco Favini. He gets all of... ten lines.
Hottie #2: Stellan Skarsgård. Are we alone on this one? Surely not. Well, maybe he's an alternative choice.
Okay, before this devolves into pure Bridget Jones, getting back on track: ...
...actually, let's take just one more minute to marvel at Ewan McGregor's pure, unadulterated, Big Bang-style hotness.
Gratuitous Ewan shot. Yes, this blog has officially turned into Bridget Jones's Diary. Yes, we fail The Bechdel Test today.
(insert your own inappropriate physics joke here)
ANYway: we get some hotties, yes, as well as some token shots of our beloved Rome (but merely drops in the desert!), but instead of action, we just get blunt, gruesome carnage. This gratuitous, macabre focus on pushing the PG-13 bounds of what is acceptable mutilation to be seen onscreen left us feeling disgusted and upset. It was at this point - watching yet another detailed close-up of a corpse, while listening to ignorant ranting about "religion and science's ancient war" - that we worried about what it meant when trashy American films project such an apocalyptic, black-or-white, anti-rationalism, anti-compromise, ultra-violent mentality.
Thankfully, the day is saved and everyone agrees that everything was blown way out of proportion (no pun intended). We won't spoil it for you, but let's just say that Ewan factors prominently in fixing the situation and redeeming the film into more neutral (but still very trashy) waters for us. And no, it's not just because of that particularly way he bats his eyelashes, or because of that adorably fussy part in his hair. (Though that helps.)