Let's establish this first – this is a loud, summer action film, and it has to be ridiculously over the top at times. But when in the first scene of the film, an old man, just having been gutted by Paul Bettany, and obviously dying, is leaving coded messages all over the Louvre, hanging a painting while bleeding from his stomach, you know it can't top itself. Then the old man proceeds to strip naked, draw a pentagram, and lie down to die in the classic Da Vinci pose. Hrrrm.
I have long heard the argument that some films are meant be enjoyed by leaving your brain out and not thinking about them. I just don't get it. Why? Why should I not be allowed to think when I am watching a film? What happened to the intelligent and coherent action films of the ‘80s, where, over the top as they may be, nothing got ludicrous?
The Da Vinci Code is not a stupid film. It's an insulting film that presumes that we are stupid. It's a movie that takes itself seriously when it is trying to sell a half-baked hokey theory to us, and manages to be funny in a way that will only hurt its chances at the box office. It is littered with scarily blunt dialog and exposition, assuming that the viewer can't think for himself.
Dan Brown's novel is a pulpy, forgettable, if occasionally entertaining book, in which main protagonist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) must team up with Agent Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou) to solve the mystery of her grandfather's death, and solve cryptic clues to follow the trail of a secret kept for 2,000 years. Involved are two secret societies intent on fighting over the secret. While the plot of the book is unevenly paced, the film follows the book almost exactly to the T, and still ends up crushingly boring.
After a madcap race from uninteresting clue to uninteresting clue, you realize that the film is also too long. Too bad you have two and a half hours to sit through. In the film, it seems that the clues and the codes are not important to director Ron Howard. He is saving all his chutzpah for the end scene where the mystery is revealed.
If not as an intelligent mystery, maybe it works as a thriller? Well, the hero of our story is so stolid, all the action in the film is relegated to someone or the other pulling a gun to someone else's face, and Hanks watching the standoffs with a detachment that is scary to watch. This is a multiple Oscar winner we are talking about. Audrey Tautou is neither charming nor intelligent. Her character comes across as a stumbling, clueless girl.
Sir Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellen) as a character serves as a convoluted plot point, and the guy to whom the biggest exposition pieces are relegated. But McKellan takes all his wit, charm, and the ability to bloody enunciate (which, to digress, none of the actors in the film seems to possess), and makes his narrative parts some of the best bits in the film. Alfred Molina... well, Spiderman 2, you know? I forgive him. But only just.
What, if any, are the saving points of the film then? The cinematography, for one, is brilliant in places. The setting up shots are nicely crafted and deftly colored. The chase sequences are shot using shaky cam techniques mastered by the Bourne movies, but do not come across as a cheap me-too attempt. And Ian McKellan - I can't recommend his teasing, witty performance enough.
Halfway through the film, I realized that the brouhaha created by the central theme is so lost in the sea of mediocrity that the protesters should just watch the film once. It is doing their job for them. This is a story that deserved a fun, pulp treatment mirroring of the mood of the book. The screenplay and direction made the same mistake the protesters did – they took it seriously.