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Movie Review

City of Angels

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexuality including language, and some nudity

Reviewed by: Christopher Heyn
CONTRIBUTOR

Average
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Older Teen to Adult
Genre:
Fantasy Romance Drama
Length:
110 min.
Year of Release:
1998
City of Angels

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Meg Ryan, André Braugher, Dennis Franz, Colm Feore, Robin Bartlett, Joanna Merlin, Sarah Dampf / Director: Brad Silberling / Released by: Warner Bros.

“Even angels long to look into such things.” I Peter 1:12b (NIV)

Although the apostle Peter was referring to the mystery of salvation, not romantic love, this verse was the first thing that popped into my head after viewing “City of Angels”, the American remake of director Wim Wenders' classic 1987 German film “Wings of Desire”. Unlike the powerful original, I was concerned that the Hollywood version would be shallow and soulless. Thankfully, it is not.

“City of Angels” is transposed from Berlin to Los Angeles, where Meg Ryan stars as Maggie Rice, a heart surgeon who does some serious soul-searching after she loses a patient on her operating table. “What if we’re not the ones really in control?” she asks. This profound question draws the angel Seth, played by an understated Nicholas Cage, to her. At first, he’s intrigued by Maggie’s strange mix of stubbornness, caring, and powerlessness. Eventually, that intrigue turns to romantic interest, then love. But she’s a human and he’s an angel. What to do?

Enter Dennis Franz as Mr. Messinger, a feisty heart patient that lets Seth in on the secret. He was a former angel who gave up his spiritual existence in order to become human, fall in love, and experience everything we humans do, including death. Seth must exercise “the most incredible gift ever given”—free will—in order to “fall,” and fall in love with Maggie. The scene where Seth makes that choice is one of several profoundly moving points in the film. The ultimate outcome of his choice is everything, and nothing, like he expected it to be.

Although “City of Angels” is a deeply moving and often surprisingly humorous film, it should come as no surprise to anyone that it is lacking in the theological department. Like any Hollywood film dealing with spiritual topics, everyone goes to Heaven when they die, and Jesus is never mentioned. However, unlike its predecessor, God is mentioned several times, and the film is not afraid to ask important questions about human existence, and what role, if any, the spiritual world plays in our lives. The audience is left to fill in the blanks for themselves.

Meg Ryan easily gives the best performance of her career, and the onscreen chemistry between her and Nicholas Cage is palpable. The film is also as visually stunning in color as “Wings of Desire” was in black and white. Being PG-13, however, there is profanity (about a dozen obscenities and a few profanities), plus non-sexual nudity (rear male nudity of man running into the ocean and side view of a man in the shower). The surgical scenes may make some viewers uncomfortable, as will the implied love scene between Ryan and Cage (mixed with graphic conversation, but containing no nudity).

“City of Angels” is highly recommended for older teens and adults, and should spark some interesting spiritual conversations. Then, do yourself a favor and rent the original, too.

For a good theological look at angels, see:

What does the Bible teach us about angels? (including Who or what are angels? / How did angels originate? / How many angels are there? / Do angels have bodies? / What do angels look like? / Do people become angels after death? / How do angels compare to human beings? / Are all angels good? / What is the job description for an angel?)

Viewer Comments
“City of Angels” encompasses a warmth not often seen in many Hollywood films. It is firmly hinged on several doctrines currently held by Christians: (1) Angels exist. (2) Heaven and an afterlife exists. (3) God exists. (4) The spirit world is invisible to the material world. (5) Angels are messengers of God. (6) Angels have never been human from their creation. However, it does seem to indicate that Heaven is available to all good people. There is no mention of Jesus Christ as the Saviour. It also fancifully indicates that angels can become human and indeed the story deals with an angel (Nicholas Cage) falling in love with a woman (Meg Ryan). There is some profanity and a simulated sex scene. Some may say it is a New Age film.
—Craig Savige, age 36
This movie should have been called City of Demons instead. An angel of God runs away from His love towards human love… gives up eternity to lie with a woman. Anyone in Hollywood ever read Genesis 6? God sent the flood upon the Earth because for one thing the sons of heaven came to know the daughters of man. I thought this movie was stupid mainly because of the lack of morals (especially for an angel). There is profanity, and much sexuality. Besides this, it is a shallow film. There is not much plot. Nicolas Cage does not pass off well as a soft-spoken caring man (he’s better in the movies where he plays a drunken jerk). It glorifies falling. This would go on my top ten least favorite movies for its immorality and just plain lousiness!
—Noah, age 15
Having read Frank Peretti’s books (This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness), I thoroughly enjoyed the representation on screen of the unseen, spiritual realm of angels. Although maybe not Biblical, it was an interesting look into how angels may play a role in our every day life. I would highly recommend the movie.
—Karen Dillon
My sister-in-law, a good friend, and I went to see “City of Angels” last night. I was overwhelmed by the movie. While I wouldn’t advocate anyone too young (10 to 25/30) seeing the movie, especially if they don’t have a firm foundation of the teachings of Christ and the Bible (any age if they aren’t Christians), I did find it entertaining with beautiful music, scenery, some scenes, etc. Who couldn’t feel the presence of our Lord and His Father in those beach scenes and at Lake Tahoe? Seeing this film with two “non-Christian types” raised many questions and great conversations and wonderful witnessing during the ride home. Let’s not be too harsh on this movie. There are many others out there that don’t even hint at free will, angels, God, life/death acceptance, etc.
—Ruth Porter
“City Of Angels” is a cheap rip-off of the original “Wings Of Desire” (1987). It is shallow and pointless. The writing is incredibly poor. It takes an interesting premise and completely ruins it by throwing in every convention possible in romantic films. The characters are undeveloped and inconsistant. Nicolas Cage comes across as being too droopy and dopy, giving the film a melancholy overtone which doesn’t work. Watch the original “Wings Of Desire” and save yourself the price of a movie ticket.
—Joshua Hornbeck, age 20
This one line sends the message that there is nothing better in heaven or on Earth that is better than human sexuality—even being in the very presence of God Almighty and worshipping Him eternally. Human love can never compare to the love offered to us by Christ.” These two statements by 2 other viewers really sum up what makes this movie undesirable. No matter what else the movie said or did, this was the bottom line. Don’t waste your money.
—Donna, age 47
Remember reading this? “That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all whic they chose. …There were giants in the Earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to the, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.” Genesis 6, verses 2 and 4. These offspring were known as Nephilem. When I saw the trailer for “City of Angels,” I got chills as these verses popped into my mind! It’s the Word illustrated right in front of all of our eyes. They make no bones about the choice involved and call it “falling”! I have noted this is becoming a familiar theme, last Sunday, 4/26/98, the X Files had a very interesting episode on the offspring of angels and humans. Hmmmm… is this something we are supposed to get used to? Just a thought.
—Stephanie Hanson, age 40
What bothered me most about City of Angels was its general lack of vision. It is so earthbound and limited. It offends the visionary part of me to think that God’s love could not be enough for the angel. That the beauties of paradise wouldn’t be strong enough to conquer a mere Earthly temptation. Death is such an anathema to any truly heavenly being! They know it exists because of sin. They know the Earth is a tomb, pretty much. And not that Meg Ryan isn’t cute, but I doubt an angel would be attracted to human purity—there is no such thing because all our righteousness is as filthy rags. The general idea of original sin and the fall is whisked away in a sort of saccharin sentimental adoration of Erotic and sensual love. Since I’m a movie reviewer, I have to see this stuff. I actually walked into the theater, groaning and I was not disappointed.
—C.M.
I wanted to see this movie mainly because Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan are in it but, also, because I wanted to see how the secular world is treating angels these days. Some of my Christian friends have started getting their theology off of the TV show, “Touched by an Angel.” I was even told, by the President of a local Christian College, that good angels are the spirits of the departed saints and bad angels are the spirits of the bad people who once lived on Earth. It always surprises me that many Christians know so little about angels so I’ve come to the conclusion they get their theology from TV and the movies. “City of Angels” cleared up the misconception that angels were ever human in the first place.

I was really pleased that this explanation took place at the beginning of the movie. I don’t expect movies to be theologically correct, and, of course, this movie wasn't. I would classify it as a good movie but there are a lot of Christian women that I hope will not see the movie. I’ve already had a couple of women consult me who were convinced that they had slept with an angel. We think that Christians are not that gullible and have had better teaching but that isn’t always the case. I don’t have to be a prophet to see that this movie is going to encourage that kind of thinking among those who don’t really separate the fiction they see on TV and the movies from the facts found in the Bible. In Matthew 21:30 Jesus makes it clear that angels do not marry nor are they given in marriage. We see pictures of male and female angels (and, yes, angels have been known to take on human appearance) but, in reality, angels have no gender. What happened in “City of Angels” is pure fiction.
—Nannette
Me and my wife thoroughly enjoyed this movie. Yes, it was disturbing at times and yes, the theological issue is totally off-track, but the movie did have some strong messages for those who will read in-between the scenes. We all have “free-will.” We can curse God and die or we can serve him each and every day. Some “things” are beyond are control. God doesn’t “punish” us. Everywhere we go there are angels—sent by God—to strengthen, encourage and protect us. I know the movie never mentioned Jesus, and angels have the will of God so this would never happen, I believe also that angels are neither male nor female… but… HELLO… this is a Hollywood M-O-V-I-E. It raises a few issues and makes you think a little bit… maybe even open some eyes to the beauty of life. I’m not saying everyone will agree or enjoy this movie, but we did.
—Krzzytimes
Sorry! I disagree with the reviewer in that I found the movie to be incredibly boring. My 24 year old daughter who was with me did, also. One would think that the two actors, themselves, would make it worth seeing, but I found myself anticipating the end of the movie, which was also very predictable, almost from the slow beginning; the medical part early on was more captivating than the rest of the movie, though. What is the significance of angels hanging out at the public library? That logic totally escaped me! What was the significance to all of them wearing black? I would also describe the visual content a little differently, too, as there was a scene that went on for almost a full minute, granted from the waist up, of the two stars having sexual intercourse and discussing what he was “feeling” throughout the experience. Altogether, as a frequent movie-goer, I would give this movie a “C-” to “D+”.
—Hilda Lewis
I have seen the preview for this film. Unfortunately, any angeel that decides to fall must turn away from God, and any angel that takes his eyes ooff of Jesus to become something other than he was created to be is in rebellion against God. I sincerely believe that our loving Father, in all of His wisdom and charity for us, would never wish for us to view a film that contains profanity, sexual situations, and fallen angels with such a twisted theology. The biggest problem with films today is they don’t mention Jesus (with some exceptions, but mostly taking His name in vain), and all of the secular media comes from hardened hearts that refuse to accept the Lord’s gift of grace and eternal life. They need Jesus, and by giving positive reviews of the anti-christian films they make, why would they ever hear what Jesus has to say as long as we encourage these movies? Anything of the flesh does’nt come from a Christ-centered heart.
—Elissa Anise Gonzalez
My mom and I saw this movie together and were both incredibly disturbed. For an angel to choose human love over God’s love is totally wrong. The acting is excellent, but this is not a good movie for Christians.
—Casey
I would highly recommend viewthe “The City of Angels.” It was a thoroughly enjoyable movie and gives limited insight into spiritual matters: such as realizing that mere humans very well might not be in control with thought of who is! There were some flashes of nudity and language; but nothing terribly offensive. The possibility of angels giving up heaven, and the like, for Earthly human bodies is pretty far out I think. For enjoyment sake—we must remember this movie is NOT non fiction. The graphic scenes in the operating room weren’t necessary; however the few negative aspects of the movie are overruled by its rewarding qualitites. Both Nicolas and Meg were well suited for their roles and did an excellent job. The photography was very well done as were some of the special effects. I beleive the ratings given by Eden are right on the mark. It’s one of the better movies I seen in awhile. Don’t leave the theatre before the ending as it has a surprising twist. Be sure no one tells you how it ends!! If you’re not too critical a Christian, I’m sure you’ll find this movie enjoyable and entertaining.
—Joyce Books
I saw “City of Angels” with my wife and was glad my kids (10 and 15) did not view this film. I cannot expect Hollywood to get anything of a religious nature 100% correct. I applaud them, however, in stating that angels were never once human beings. With “Angel-fever” running rampant throughout Hollywood, it’s refreshing to see someone get it right for a change.

One comment that was made Cage toward the end of the movie made me cringe. He was asked if he would “do it all over again” and fall from his position as an angel. Cage answered that for one brief scent of her hair, the touch of her, and to be with her he would do it all over again. This one line sends the message that there is nothing better in heaven or on Earth that is better than human sexuality—even being in the very presence of God Almighty and worshipping Him eternally.
—R. DeLong, age 40
I have just one question for those who have seen this film, or are thinking of seeing it—“Is any human worth one’s eternity?” This movie subtley, yet blatently shows the choice between loving God or man. In the City of Angels he chose her love over God’s will. Here, once again, is another movie making angels out to be anything other than what they really are. In my opinion, this movie is both shallow and soulless. Human love can never compare to the love offered to us by Christ.
—MRM