Angels & Demons

Angels & Demons

***

Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

Unlike Dan Brown’s hugely talked-about source novel, The Da Vinci Code wasn't met with much praise. However, despite generally unfavourable reviews and plenty of inevitable religious outcries (which included protests against the depiction of both Christ and the Catholic Church), its big box-office numbers meant a follow-up was always on the cards. Looking to atone for sins past, the creative team - most notably star Tom Hanks and director Ron Howard - return for round two.

In the midst of electing a new Pope, the Catholic Church falls under threat from the ancient Illuminati as a number of potential successors are murdered while a stolen anti-matter bomb is about to be detonated in Vatican City. As a solution, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Hanks) is summoned to Rome and partnered with nuclear physicist Vittoria Vetra (Zurer). With the help of acting pontiff, Camerlengo Patrick McKenna (McGregor), a Vatican Police General (Favino) and the Swiss Guard Commander (Skarsgard), Langdon races against time to solve the puzzle...

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Though undoubtedly similar in tone, it’s important to note that Angels & Demons takes a slightly different approach. Perhaps as a reaction to previous criticisms, Howard (who was admittedly frustrated by said critics), employs more pace this time and leans more towards an against-the-clock whodunit than last time’s talky exposition-fest. Sure, there’s still plenty of plot explanation to be had (the word 'bundles' comes to mind), but here, as producer Brian Grazer explains: “Langdon doesn't stop and give a speech. When he speaks, he's in motion."

However, it’s also likely that this sequel (though the novel was published before The Da Vinci Code, Howard decided to carry things on as many would have read it afterwards) will be met with the same mixed reaction. Yes, the central premise is fun and makes for an entertaining night’s brain-free popcorn, but the minute you start analysing the goings-on, the jigsaw falls apart.

As Langdon races from one clue to another, it’s all too easy to disbelieve as he split-second decodes and unravels puzzle after puzzle that have baffled the world’s collective minds for years. One minute we get a beautiful Hans Zimmer-assisted moment where a chopper disappears into the sky, the next we are rolling our eyes as it’s spoiled soon after. There are hints of a decent science-co-existing-with-religion debate, but it’s buried beneath copious layers of plotting.

As far as the source material goes, with Grazer admitting that they were too “reverential” in their previous adaptation, here more liberties are taken. Crucially, the broad strokes remain close to the book, but the script from respectable scribes David Koepp and Akira Goldsmith also makes key divergences (time in the CERN lab is minimalised to just the opening, the killer isn’t an Arabian rapist). Yes, if you listen closely enough you can actually hear fans of the novel crying out loud.

Cast-wise, though, we have some talent, they just aren’t given the material. Always-excellent faces like Armin Mueller-Stahl and Stellan Skarsgard are both quality but underused, Ayelet Zurer doesn’t have enough to do as our replacement for Audrey Tautou’s Agent Neveu and Ewan McGregor again proves that doing accents isn’t his strong suit. As for Hanks, though he’s clearly amended his previously over-analysed hair and gets a few laughs, he’s, again, largely shackled with spending most of his time explaining everything to the audience.

Overall, it’s a much pacier affair than The Da Vinci Code but the same problems (century-old enigma after century-old enigma solved on the spot) spoil it from being the tension-exuder it should have been. So, next up, The Lost Symbol…

Reviewed on: 07 Jun 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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Jennie Kermode **1/2

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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