CITY OF ANGELS
In Wings of Desire, the romance was one aspect but not necessarily the primary subplot; in City of Angels, the romance is propelled to the forefront and told in the most shameless Hollywood romantic sentiments conceivable. Certainly, one must admit, this is something at which City of Angels conducts itself passably. There are some passages that come with tenderly written feeling especially the opening scene where Nicolas Cage takes the soul of a child from a hospital operating theatre Will Mummy understand? She will. It is just that when you compare it to Wings of Desire, City of Angels cannot help but seem an inferior effort. Director Brad Silberling ably imitates Wim Wenders stylistic moves, serenely circling the camera through the air as though being operated by angels. There are even moments when the film seems to play with the double meaninged title (the play between City of Angels and Los Angeles) and the visual iconography that one might associate with it in a very Wenders-esque way angels nonchalantly holding conversations atop downtown street signs or sitting atop the Hollywood sign. City of Angels even takes the ending to further places than Wings of Desire ever went to by opting for a tragic ending to the romance in order to add the comment that the joy of life entails pain as well (a corollary that Wim Wenders left it to his Wings of Desire sequel Faraway, So Close! (1993) before getting around to making).
Where Wim Wenders achieved a numinously divine poetry about the aching fragility and beauty of the human condition, City of Angels is left straining at romantic cliche. Brad Silberling cannot help but overdo it. One of the most haunting images in Wings of Desire was a beautiful tracking shot that showed angels invisibly sitting amongst the people in a library. Brad Silberling repeats this in City of Angels but overplays it to the point of absurdity the library becomes a focal location in the story and Silberling tricks it out with absurdly heavy-handed shots like having all the angels sinisterly looking down from the balconies. (In an odd piece of location recasting, the library is the San Francisco main public library rather than anywhere in Los Angeles).
However, where City of Angels loses it altogether is in the disastrous casting. Nicolas Cage is appallingly miscast as an angel where he should radiate a beatific grace and drift through listening to human thoughts with a boundless empathy, Cage comes across as dopey. The most laughable parts are when it comes to the films celebration of the joy of life where Cages attempts at running about animated by the ecstasy of sensation make him look like a total lunatic. Equally, Meg Ryan is miscast in the part of a heart surgeon. Meg Ryan is a light comedy actress and is almost impossible to believe as a surgeon on the emotional brink. (She is not exactly helped by poorly motivated script it is hard to believe an experienced surgeon would suddenly go to pieces for no well-defined reason after the medically inexplicable death of a child she never knew). Between this absurd box-office oriented miscasting and Brad Silberlings heavy-handed mishandling of the story, the serene poetry of Wim Wenders original topples into risibility.
Director Brad Silberling had earlier ventured into the fantasy genre with Casper (1995), adapted from popular childrens cartoon character and comic-book, and would return with the Gothic childrens fantasy Lemony Snickets A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004) and the big-screen comedy adaptation of the tv series Land of the Lost (2009).