Taking a hint from past mistakes, Ron Howard and Tom Hanks return to the fanciful historical styling’s of Dan Brown to create a much more entertaining and thrilling mystery, as science and religion, martyrs and heretics clash in Angels and Demons.
Based on Brown’s prequel to The Da Vinci Code – but here re-shaped as a sequel – Angels and Demons takes advantage of the eternal debate between religion and science, which has now reached fever pitch with the emergence of militant atheist’s and their cascade of God denouncing literature.
The film begins with a glimpse of both worlds which will play background to the films ever developing and bloody mystery. First is the funeral for the late Pope (seemingly based on Pope John Paul II). Soon after, the ancient ritual of conclave – a ceremony which determines the next leader of the Catholic Church – gets under way, as a sea of cardinals move sombrely towards the Sistine Chapel, so debate and voting can begin.
This holy scene is countered by a different setting, the European Council for Nuclear Research (otherwise known as CERN), where a team of scientists (one of them a Catholic priest), smash atoms in their Large Hadron Collider – an enormous metallic tube expanding across the Swiss and French borders– in order to create and contain a powerful and highly combustible substance named anti-matter, Howard having fun with special effects wizardry portraying protons flying every which way in a scene of chaotic beauty.
With a large amount of anti-matter captured in a battery powered magnetic canister, so begins the plot, as the canister is stolen and the Catholic priest/scientist murdered. Soon it is revealed the canister has been planted somewhere in Vatican City, its blast set to annihilate the Holy See. On top of this four leading Cardinals in line to take on the Papacy have been kidnapped and threatened with death.
Responsibility for the act of terrorism is taken by a long defunct secret society named The Illuminati, which in real life was a group of free thinkers formed during the 17th century in Bavaria (Germany), and are now evoked in every NWO conspiracy theory imaginable. In Angels and Demons, The Illuminati was formed by Galileo and others during the scientific revolution, forced underground by The Vatican, and condemned to death. Total hogwash, yet not a surprise considering the source material.
With time running out, The Vatican reluctantly summon world renowned professor of religious symology, Robert Langdon to help find the bomb and the four Cardinals. This involves deciphering clues within Vatican City, which has been wondrously re-created through meticulous set design and choice CGI, Howard making the best out of his ban from shooting in Vatican City.
And on that note, many believers will be surprised to find that the film leans more towards the pro rather than the anti-Catholic. In fact, some will even the film with a warm and fuzzy feeling, satisfied with Howard’s approach to the issue of religion, faith, and its relationship with science.
The role of Langdon is reprised by Tom Hanks, who although miscast, gives a spirited performance as the intelligent and witty professor. Ewan McGregor gives a subtle yet engaging turn as the former pope’s right hand man, Camerlengo Patrick McKenna; Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer provides the right chemistry, which the dour Audrey Tatou could not provide in The Da Vinci Code; and character actors Stellan Skarsgard and Armin Mueller-Stahl give strong supporting turns in their roles of head of Swiss Guard Commander Richter, and wise elderly priest Cardinal Strauss, respectively.
By making an adaptation, rather than a re-creation of Dan Brown’s popular novel, Ron Howard and his screenwriters David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman, succeed in creating a much more taut thriller which places its focus more on momentum and impact, rather than long winded discussion and need to address the motive of the novels vast sub characters, which have either thankfully been shortened or thrown out.
Angels and Demons is, after all, a race against time thriller, and although its mid section does tend to lag due to the weight of its issues and faux history, the film is a much more engaging romp than expected.