What do you get when you mix science fiction’s amazing anti-matter with the Catholic Church? No, it isn’t Scientology (although that is a good guess). You get Angels & Demons, the long awaited follow-up to The Da Vinci Code. This time around the pews, instead of hunting down Opus Dei and poking holes through the Church’s long held beliefs, a markedly older Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) has been asked by the Vatican itself to aid them in saving four kidnapped cardinals and stopping the immanent destruction of Vatican City by the sinister Illuminati.
Sounds intriguing, doesn’t it?
Well it is and it isn’t, if that makes any sense.
The thrill of the chase is full bore which certainly adds some well needed pace and intrigue to Angels & Demons. Langdon and CERN particle physicist Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer) rush about to all the beautifully adorned landmarks within Rome at breakneck speed. They’re racing against the clock — each hour on the hour, one of the four cardinals will be killed — until midnight when an anti-matter bomb (stolen from the Large Hadron Collider of all places) is set to go off. I’m not entirely sure what value Ms. Vetra added to the equation other than being able to read Latin but she’s in it for the long haul. Adding their own momentary pricks of help and/or hindrance is the head of the Swiss Guard, Commander Richter (Stellan Skarsgà¥rd), Vatican cop, Inspector Olivetti (Pierfrancesoco Favino) and Camerlengo, Patrick McKenna (Ewan McGregor).
Try as they (and others) may to toss red herrings at us, it all comes down to Langdon being able to decipher century-old ciphers correctly 100% of the time. And under immense pressure to get it right, he does get it right, no matter how implausible it is for him to get right. I understand that for the film to actually progress he needs to solve these cryptic clues, but are we actually supposed to believe he can in under 15 minutes? (Remember, lifetimes have been spent on trying to make sense of it all without any success). That’s not to say the whole concept of the Illuminati using the Church’s own artifacts as a means of communicating isn’t fascinating — it is — I just couldn’t help to think there must have been a better way to pull it off.
Hanks doesn’t dial in his usual robust performance either, which drags a good chunk of the intensity down. He comes across tired, almost as if, if he hadn’t signed on to the sequel years ago, he would have surely found something else to do. Of course it could be said that the role required him to act this way, and if so, then he did an outstanding job (I just wasn’t impressed with it either way). Ewan McGregor as the temporary Pope is good but perhaps he exudes just a bit too much pomp and circumstance for the extreme moments he finds himself presiding over.
Thankfully, Angels & Demons doesn’t push one side of the evolution/creationism debate over the other; my biggest pet peeve is to be preached to by a movie. There were plenty of chances for this to occur and Ron Howard manages to side step them all (mostly by giving both sides equal debate time), although I would expect the Catholic Church to still heartedly boycott the film. This isn’t Howard’s or Hanks’ best work by no means, but it does twist a relatively interesting story — even if the final outcome is as obvious to you and I as the clues are to Langdon.