Angels & Demons ****
When it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2006, The Da Vinci Code, director Ron Howard’s adaptation of the bestselling novel by Dan Brown received an extremely lukewarm reception from critics, a reception that was equalled when it was released officially in cinemas. Nonetheless, the film was a huge box office smash hit, grossing over $750 million worldwide, likely due to the considerable hype that was generated by the controversy surrounding the source material. Its box office success meant that a follow-up was quickly green lit with Dan Brown’s prequel novel Angels & Demons (retooled as a sequel for the purposes of the film) being given the go-ahead. However, following a somewhat hostile reaction to The Da Vinci Code, a film that failed to make a lasting impression on many moviegoers, and considering that Angels & Demons lacks the controversy of its predecessor, this is a film that will have to work very hard to win over moviegoers left cold following Ron Howard’s first attempt at adapting the works of Dan Brown. However, with Angels & Demons widely being regarded as the better of the two books it is a task that this film might just be able to pull off.
Despite his notorious relationship with the Church, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is once again called upon to decipher the clues to a catastrophic conspiracy. A sample of a dangerous substance called Anti-Matter has been stolen from the CERN Super Collider in Switzerland and in the wake of the death of the Pope, before conclave can begin to determine his successor, the four preferitti (primary hopefuls for the papacy) have been kidnapped. An ominous threat of their hourly demise, along with the complete annihilation of Vatican City by the Anti-Matter, is issued as an elaborate revenge scheme for a persecuted group known as the Illuminati. Despite the warning, however, the Vatican is divided on how to respond to the threat. Camerlengo Patrick McKenna (Ewan McGregor), who is standing in for the Pope until a new Pope is selected, wants to evacuate while Cardinal Strauss (Armin Mueller-Stahl), head of the conclave, and Swiss Guard Commander Richter (Stellan Skarsgard) feel that evacuation is out of the question. With their meager time limit steadily counting down, Langdon, accompanied by beautiful physicist Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer), must travel throughout Rome to unravel the carefully hidden signs that will lead them to a terrifying adversary, a harrowing discovery, and the shocking truth.
While it is likely that many of those who found fault with The Da Vinci Code will find fault with Angels & Demons, it is hard to deny that it is a far superior film to its predecessor. While what Ron Howard has crafted is still far from being a masterpiece, with him failing to create something that offers much in terms of cinema as an art form, as a piece of entertainment the film is successful, being consistently engaging throughout, even if at times the storyline is tad predictable, and managing to be both thrilling and tense whenever it needs to be. While the film certainly isn’t one of the most action packed you will see this summer, what we get is well staged and enjoyable, and there certainly isn’t a lack of incident to keep us interested throughout the film’s 2 hours 15 minutes running time. At times the pace does slow down somewhat, although this is necessary for the purposes of the plot, and some of the dialogue may be a bit too academic for moviegoers who have no knowledge of the history upon which the film is based, making it somewhat difficult to understand certain things that the characters talk about, but these are relatively minor gripes in what is, for the most part, a very well executed suspense thriller. The climax of the film also has some quite spectacular effects that ensure that the final destination of the story is well worth the journey it takes to get there. As you would expect from a film with a cast of such a high calibre as this the acting is also of a high standard. Tom Hanks is on top form in the lead role and is backed up by strong supporting performances from all involved, notably Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer, Stellan Skarsgard, and Armin Mueller-Stahl. Overall, Angels & Demons is an enjoyable thriller that is a considerable improvement upon its predecessor. It still has its flaws and, as with many literary adaptations, may not live up the expectations of those who have read the book, but it is an entertaining and thrilling film nonetheless that is definitely worth the price of a cinema ticket.
Fighting is one of those films where you know exactly what to expect just from the title. In a similar vein to past films such as Fight Club (although without that film’s sharp social commentary) and Never Back Down, this film’s title really does speak for itself with fighting being at the heart of the film. Of course, this is a drama and thus there is a story to pad out the film between the fight sequences but most of it is pretty inconsequential, serving only as an excuse for the fights. As such, the film is essentially retreading a tired formula that has been used many times before and doesn’t seem to have much left to offer, thus meaning that its appeal is likely to be very limited. Only the presence of Terrence Howard amongst the cast suggests that Fighting could be anything more than a generic teen drama that will only be appreciated by teens. But sadly even his presence can’t make this film anything more than that.
Shawn MacArthur (Channing Tatum) is a small time counterfeiter who scrapes together a living, selling bootlegs on the streets of New York City. His life is going nowhere until small time hustler Harvey Boarden (Terrence Howard) introduces him to the world of underground street fighting. Harvey sees potential in Shawn and soon transforms him into one of the hottest fighters in the city. Shawn is only in it for the money though and when the opportunity comes to make more cash than he has ever dreamed of by throwing a fight against an old rival he reluctantly takes the chance. But can he really go through with it? Meanwhile, Shawn develops a relationship with waitress Zulay Valez (Zulay Henao).
Terrence Howard is a great actor and at this point in his career he really is in a position to choose his film projects carefully so why exactly he chose to appear in Fighting is a bit of a mystery. This film completely wastes him. Nonetheless, he is pretty much the best thing in the film and that is despite the fact that his character is so one-dimensional that it makes absolutely no use of his acting talents. He tries to bring some gravitas to the film but fails completely. The rest of the cast ranges from poor to mediocre with leading man Channing Tatum failing to create a character who we give a damn about. If we can’t sympathise or empathise with the protagonist of a film then it makes his character’s entire journey pretty meaningless and this is most definitely the case here. Only near the very end do we get any significant character development but by then it is too late to make a notable difference. Zulay Henao is the only cast member who stands out in any way, making for a decent romantic interest, if still being pretty passable herself. The generally poor quality of acting makes it really difficult to care about anything happens but this is as much the fault of a poorly written script and weak direction as it is of any of the actors. The story is tired and predictable and no effort is made to disguise this with the general presentation of the film being of a very low standard. The manner in which the plot unfolds is dull and uninteresting, failing to provide any notable character development or create any dramatic tension. Only near the end does anything of any real consequence happen but by them it is really too late, the film up to this point being such a drag to sit through. The film is equally as poor in other areas as well with the cinematography seeming like that of an amateur and the editing being pretty much along the same lines. The camera frequently comes in and out of focus at the wrong times and the framing is consistently very poor. Even the fight sequences don’t fair much better with them being mostly poorly staged, failing to provide the thrills that they should, and they suffer all the more due to the poor camera work and shoddy editing. This is a major problem considering that they really are the core of the film. Overall, Fighting is a film that really has no place being released in cinemas. It comes across like a below average straight to DVD release and has virtually no features that make it worth recommending. In times where money is scarce there is no point in wasting your cash on such poor quality filmmaking as this, particularly when there are so many genuinely good films out there.
Reviews by Robert Mann BA (Hons)
© BRWC 2010.
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