As a conclave meets to elect a new Pope, symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is summoned to Rome. Kidnapped cardinals are murdered hourly, seemingly by the ancient Illuminati, building up to the detonation of an anti-matter bomb which will destroy Vatican City. Langdon has to follow a secret path through Rome to save the Catholic church.
Ron Howard’s film of Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code ranks among the most profitable films of the decade, racking up Harry Potter or Batman-size grosses – yet you’d be hard put to find anyone, including many fans of Dan Brown’s books, who actually liked it. Nevertheless, the numbers make so much sense that this sequel, reuniting Howard with star Tom Hanks (but not, sadly, Audrey Tautou), was inevitable.
Given that it combines religious, scientific, political, art historical and academic lunacy in one package, Angels & Demons is at least more entertaining than the dreary, talky Da Vinci Code. This time out, heroic Harvard academic and devout agnostic Robert Langdon (a trim Hanks) has only an evening to solve a series of puzzles which have thwarted thinkers for centuries, as Se7en-style mangled corpses (cardinals killed by the four elements) are delivered on the hour before the possible destruction of the entire Vatican by anti-matter stolen from the CERN Large Hadron Collider. It’s still a runabout with footnotes about clues embedded in Bernini statues, as if Renaissance art were all on a level with Where’s Wally, but at least it’s more urgent than last time.
However, there are problems with the film – scripted by David Koepp, who has a track record with wrestling best-sellers into shape (Jurassic Park), and Akiva Goldsman, whose undeserved Beautiful Mind Oscar still doesn’t outweigh Schumacher Batfilm credits – that wouldn’t get past development if they weren’t ported over from a presold hit book (though they do drop the Pope’s clone son angle). Every supporting character acts like an unhelpful idiot to keep the plot stirring, especially the fighting Irish deputy Pope (Ewan McGregor) and the suspicious Swiss Guard (Stellan Skarsgaard). Yet again, a seemingly all-powerful conspiracy seems to consist of two whole evil guys, with one solitary unimpressive hitman (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) pulling off crimes SPECTRE wouldn’t have the manpower to commit.
None of this would matter if Howard didn’t direct at such an even, respectable plod -- with time-outs for lectures delivered in gorgeous sets and locations representing the depths of the Vatican and various Roman tourist attractions. It has okay escapes-from-dire-peril and a you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it Ewan-in-a-chopper trick in the penultimate climax, but material as insane as this cries out for a crackpot visionary like Dario Argento or Richard Stanley.
More entertaining than The Da Vinci Code, but still tosh.