Movie Review: The Da Vinci Code

First off, I didn’t hate it. This makes me somewhat unique in the area of movie criticism. But then was anyone expecting critical accolades? Really? I think the real court of opinion will be the vox populi. Much will hinge on whether it gains a mass audience and makes a ton of money. If the film makes the money everyone thinks it will make, then the message of “Da Vinci” will sustain its place in the cultural spotlight for a while longer.

Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon

Contrary to the growing consensus, the movie is really quite better than the book. I didn’t like the book at all, while I at least found parts of “Da Vinci” entertaining. The film streamlines much of the pointless exposition of the novel, and makes the character of Langdon far more skeptical and even-keeled (though they kept the stupid “professor of religious symbology” title). Plus, I’m kind of a Sir Ian McKellen fanboy, and he brings some much-needed charm and humor to the picture.

Some modern Pagans will enjoy the vehemence of Tom Hanks as Langdon denying that the pentacle is a Satanic symbol (not to mention dissing the Catholic church for witch-burnings). We are also treated to flashbacks of Pagans being persecuted by Christians, and a montage of the European witch-persecutions in Early Modern history. I sometimes think that the filmmakers would rather this was about actual goddess-worship instead of mere Christian heresy.

Obviously Catholics (and many Christians) will hate this film. There are boycotts, othercotts, and protests already happening, and there is even talk of possible legal action. Historians will wince at some of the “facts” and historical flashbacks thrown around, and I’m not sure if the film will do Paganism or modern Gnosticism any favors.

Perhaps the greatest weakness of the film is the mishandling of French actress Audrey Tautou. Only faint traces of the charm she showed in films like “Amelie” appear here. She is often left to grimace into the camera and look shocked at appropriate moments. In fact this is true of many of the fine French actors who make cameos in the film. Maybe Ron Howard doesn’t know how to handle European talent?

In the end, this is a mediocre film with flashes of charm here and there (especially from McKellen). What makes this film important is its role as the cultural opposite of “The Passion of The Christ” and as a test balloon from Hollywood to see if the “spiritual but not religious” demographic can make a film a hit. If the film does gross big, it may well open the door to a truly big-budget “Pagan” flick (and no, I don’t mean the Wicker Man remake coming out in September). So if you aren’t offended overmuch by bad history and mild anti-Christian sentiment, “Da Vinci” is a tolerable popcorn flick.