Angels & Demons

Angels & Demons

**1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Four Cardinals kidnapped. An ancient enemy at the gates. A plan to blow up the Vatican itself. No wonder the Church is frightened. So much so that it enlists the help of Professor Robert Langdon, the man it went to so much trouble to get rid of in this film's prequel, The Da Vinci Code. And if that sounds implausible, wait until you encounter the science on which the plot hinges.

Drawing on the association of the Illuminati with light, this story would have it that their ultimate weapon aims to generate an explosion of light using antimatter - four grams of the stuff - stolen from CERN. "But CERN was never meant to produce antimatter," protests a physicist near the start, and she's right; it was never designed to either, at least not in this quantity - so far it has generated less than a billionth as much. This kind of thing is forgivable in Star Trek, which rarely pretends to be anything other than science fantasy, but less so in a story grounded in present-day academic tradition. But then, these are academics who spend the whole story struggling to remember really well known stuff. This film explains why the public are so reluctant to fund universities.

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There are other parallels with Star Trek. Everybody speaks English - and even writes stuff down in English - for no logical reason, lapsing into Foreign only when it suits the demands of the plot. Our academic hero intercuts his overintellectualising with lots of running round corridors, throwing in the odd tumble; it's surprising he doesn't lose his shirt. On the other hand, this at least delivers some of the thrills that the most recent Indiana Jones film might have benefited from.

As a thriller, this is as tight and as gripping as you'd expect from the team involved, smoothly directed and good at keeping viewers on the edge of their seats. The flip side of this is that most of its twists and turns can be predicted from the moment each character and setting is introduced. That said, there still isn't enough stuff that the audience can decipher for itself beyond the simplest level of the plot - many of Langdon's great revelations depend on esoteric knowledge they're unlikely to have. It's a cheap narrative trick intended to pull the wool over their eyes and make the writers look cleverer than they really are.

Tom Hanks turns in a solid performance in the lead, watchable as always, and he's ably matched by Ewan McGregor as a young priest whom circumstance has thrown into an unfamiliar position of authority. Ayelet Zurer is wasted, tottering around on the sidelines uttering implausible lines about how a couple of murders have made her rethink her whole career, but there's great support from the ever-capable Stellan Skarsgård and Armin Mueller-Stahl. Nikolaj Lie Kaas completes the set as an unusually stupid hitman, but he's certainly got the moves, and delivers them effectively in several gripping action sequences.

If all you want is light entertainment, some running around, explosions and fancy scenery, Angels & Demons does the job pretty well. Just don't let it persuade you that it has anything more significant to say.

Reviewed on: 14 May 2009
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Angels & Demons packshot
The Catholic Church calls on its old adversary Robert Langdon to save it from an Illuminati threat.
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Stephen Carty ***

Director: Ron Howard

Writer: David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman, based on the book by Dan Brown.

Starring: Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer, Stellan Skarsgård, Pierfrancesco Favino, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Cosimo Fusco

Year: 2009

Runtime: 138 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US

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