Tuesday, November 1, 2016


Welcome to another installment of SIDE BY SIDE, where we dissect the differences and similarities between two films, be it a remake/reboot with its original, a sequel with its original, or two similar movies. This week we’ll be taking a look at a pair of films in a series that preceded 2016's latest box office flop Inferno… THE DAVINCI CODE and ANGELS AND DEMONS.

The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons are the first two releases in the Robert Langdon trilogy based on the novels by best-selling author Dan Brown. Both films are directed by Ron Howard and star Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon. The films are fairly similar in most basic ways as both involve some sort of mystery that involves art, symbology, and history that leads to someone contacting or drawing Robert Langdon into the story to help solve a crime or find some McGuffin. I am a fan of the books (some of the best airplane-fare around, not great literature) and of several things in this series. What is interesting for me in a side-by-side analysis of these two films is that I enjoy one considerably more than the other.

I want to start by talking about each film individually briefly, beginning with The DaVinci Code. This film came out at the height of Dan Brown’s popularity as this film took the world by storm. It was all anyone could talk about a decade ago. Why it picked up such popularity, I cannot be sure, but this film largely failed to live up to people’s feelings about the book. Ron Howard did a good job taking the material and supplying visuals to what many had read which started this film off on the right foot. Moreover, Tom Hanks definitely stepped into the role and embodied Robert Langdon incredibly well. This is hardly surprising given how good of an actor he is but he also managed to be quick with his expositional history/art/symbology lessons that were a staple of the underlying novels. This is the strongest part of The DaVinci Code in terms of its adaptation, however the film struggles deeply with its narrative. It balances many different stories awkwardly and uses flashback scenes and memories that drag you in and out of important events happening in the present. It also gave short shrift to a lot of characters that should have been interesting which was frequently frustrating as an audience member. Further, it really overstays its welcome as it pushes the three-hour mark without having good enough pacing to keep the audience involved with the story.

Angels and Demons is the same in many ways but undoubtedly improves on many issues from the first film. Hanks continues to be excellent and Howard takes us on a fun ride through interesting art and history (much like in the original) but we also got a vastly simplified forward moving narrative that was incredibly engaging to watch. There is always something happening in Angels and Demons which makes it feel reasonable in length. Hanks continues to portray Robert Langdon well and even gets a couple great zinger moments. We also add a number of compelling side characters portrayed by Ewan McGregor, Stellan SkarsgĂ„rd, and Pierfrancesco Favino. The film still features some awkward explanatory expositional dialogue as well as some serious moments of inconsistency and lack of believability that detracted from the experience for many audience members. It also has kind of a goofy ending and has a female lead that just seems to be good at everything which raised a few eyebrows from time to time. Overall, it is still an entertaining film and had me on board and engaged throughout.

I have a noticeably different take on these initial films in the Robert Langdon trilogy disliking one and really enjoying the other. The benefit of looking at them side by side is that it reveals the benefits of one over the other. Both films have moments on introspection and moments that look backwards in time at historical events. In The DaVinci Code Ron Howard chose washed out flashbacks to show these events (accompanied with the dialogue characteristic of the series). In Angels and Demons the introspective moments were more subtle and the allusions to history were entirely relayed in dialogue and no flashback moments were utilized. This kept Angels and Demons always moving and keeping you involved which was a huge failing in The DaVinci Code. The side characters are notably stronger in Angels and Demons as well, as is the situation happening more generally (trying to find a murderer of cardinals instead of some weird convoluted quest for the Holy Grail whilst being headed off by some clandestine religious organization). I also thought that Ron Howard improved the quality of the shot design and cinematography between the two films which made Angels and Demons a much more pleasant film to look at as well.

The films do have a lot of similarities though. They both explore a lot of religiously connected European history and structure themselves as modern detective tales. They also have similar issues with hamfisted dialogue and definitively unrealistic plot lines. Moreover, both films definitely trade on the lack of knowledge by the audience and see themselves as vehicles to teach (even if the information isn’t always accurate).

The final point I want to touch on in this side-by-side review is why I’m disappointed in this series as a whole and the failure that the third film, Inferno (check out my review here), brings is that I think this character as Dan Brown originally conceived him lends himself to be a modern day detective/adventure character that could have an extensive series of interesting and serialized films that would be fun to go see every couple years or so. They’d never be Oscar winners but they’d just be enjoyable and we’d get the great Tom Hanks in theaters regularly as a character that we can just have fun with and I think what Ron Howard did with Angels and Demons shows where this series could have really been successful. Sadly, this series fell away from fun engaging films and rather went into a death spiral of drab weakness and poor filmmaking which disappoints me as a filmgoer and fan of this character.

Overall I think The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons are dramatically different films with the same fundamental DNA. I think that The DaVinci Code fails frequently and I think that Angels and Demons tweaks and succeeds in all the areas that The DaVinci Code fails in. Check out this series if you’re interested but know that you’ll likely walk away thinking they made one decent film in three attempts.

Ryan’s Scores:

The DaVinci Code: 4/10
Angels and Demons: 7/10

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