Angels & Demons

Ron Howard’s film of Dan Brown’s best-seller The Da Vinci Code is one of the most profitable films of the decade so far, propelled by hype and expectation to genuine blockbuster status, although you would struggle to find anyone - even fans of the book – who actually enjoyed it. Angels & Demons is a better film than The Da Vinci Code, but then they all are.

Tom Hanks reprises his role as Robert Langdon, esteemed Professor of Symbology, for another far-fetched lesson in medieval conspiracies, this time set in the Vatican. As the film opens, the Pope has died and the College of Cardinals, led by the sinister Strauss (Armin Mueller-Stall) and Deputy Pope McKenna (Ewan McGregor), is gathered in conclave to elect a new church leader. Then, four eminent cardinals are kidnapped with the announcement that one will be killed each hour leading up to a bombing that will destroy St Peter’s Square.

The kidnappers identify themselves as the Illuminati, a mythical sect of apostates that, three hundred years before, tried to reconcile religion and science. Summoned to Rome, Landon is asked by the hierarchy to decipher a series of arcane clues scattered around the city’s churches. He is assisted by Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer), an Italian scientist who discovered the combustible anti-matter, stolen to provide fuel for the Illuminati bomb.

The plot, which is far less elaborate than Howard would have you believe, is essentially the same collection of cod-history and pictorial rebuses as before, the difference being the biblical inventions of the first film are replaced by the dread spectre of contemporary terrorism. Hanks races through the inane dialogue with the same bemused expression as before, like a man working out a particularly fiendish sudoku, in pen, while being chased by rabid tigers. Opposite him, as the sexy scientist, Zurer has little to do beyond provide nodding confirmation for some of the story’s more elaborate fictions.

The relationship between the pair never develops into anything more than hero and sidekick, despite him being a mere symbologist (who can’t even read Latin) and her being a particle physicist with a white coat and a laboratory at Cern and all.

Perhaps recognising how flat and static the first film turned out, Howard and his returning cinematographer Salvatore Totino keep the camera in constant motion this time around, adding energy to Langdon’s incautious adventuring and keeping the viewer from realising that what they are watching is patent nonsense. The approach cannot, however, cover the fact that the film exists in an absurd and distracting time-frame which gives the characters mere minutes to discover the clues, figure out what to do next then negotiate their way through the damnable Roman traffic to the next location. The only joy in the join-the-dots narrative is seeing how Langdon distinguishes which of the ancient statues are pointing at vital clues and which are merely pointing.

Timing aside, screenwriters David Koep and Akiva Goldsman follow the ruts in the road laid down by Brown’s source book but arrive at a point where they must reveal the identity of their solitary hit-man far too soon; leaving the identity of the villain pulling the strings as the only mystery. Angels & Demons shares many of the same problems as its predecessor, being talkative, clumsy and po-faced but the biggest repeat offence is Howard’s plodding direction. The film, which leaves the door open for a third iteration, might make a lot of money but I cannot think of anyone who would want to watch it.

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