Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, disturbing images and thematic material.
Starring Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer, Stellan Skarsgård, Pierfrancesco Favino, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Thure Lindhardt, David Pasquesi.
Written by David Koepp, Akiva Goldsman and Dan Brown (book).
Directed by Ron Howard.
By Dan Metcalf
When it comes to "book" movies, or movies based on popular books, the biggest hazard is the inevitability that most will think the book is always better than the movie. When The Da Vinci Code movie was released 3 years ago, I took the time to read the book before its premiere, and I was predictably (if only slightly) disappointed. The latest Dan Brown novel to hit the big screen is Angels and Demons, and this time around, I did not read before I watched, so I was able to avoid that whole book/movie annoyance.
Tom Hanks is back as Dan Brown's principle protagonist Dr. Robert Langdon, a Harvard symbology and history professor. When four catholic cardinals are kidnapped on the eve of a conclave (an election process) to select a new pope, Langdon is summoned to the Vatican to help discover the source of an evil plot to blow up the holy city and execute the cardinals. Joining Langdon is eurobabe Vittoria Vetra, a scientist working on to produce an "anti-matter," or a sort of nuclear-like substance that is believed to be the scientific equivalent of the "Big Bang" theory, or moment of creation.
Ewan McGregor plays Camerlengo Patrick McKenna, the late pope's personal assistant and the man in charge until a new pope can be elected by the conclave of cardinals. The organization behind the cardinal kidnappings has threatened to execute one cardinal per hour as a vendetta for a 17th century purge of catholics who embraced science over creationism. The secret organization is called the Illuminatti, supposedly dead and gone from the purge, but now seemingly re-emerging after years in secrecy. The Illuminatti are ironically using the scientific anti-matter to blow up the Vatican as part of their vendetta.
That's where Langdon comes in, since he's the foremost authority on religious symbols, including those used by the Illuminatti. Langdon must search the symbols of the Vatican and other chapels across Rome to catch the evil plotters before they kill the cardinals and blow up the Vatican.
Langdon's presence at The Vatican presents a stressful situation between the scientist and the true believers, especially with all that recent Da Vinci trouble fresh on their minds. To solve the crime, Langdon must get an all-access pass to the Vatican archives and other sacred areas, which makes the holy city's cops more than a little nervous, especially the head of Vatican security Commander Richter, played by Stellan Skarsgård.
As Langdon gets closer to the location of the Illuminatti, more people's lives are placed in danger, and the evil plot thickens. I won't give away the ending if you haven't read the book, but suffice to say there's more to the plot than meets the eye, a staple of any Dan Brown novel.
I liked Angels and Demons as a movie, because it held my attention and kept me in suspense. The action moved a lot faster than The Da Vinci Code (movie), and never left me bored. Hanks does a fine job as the faithless scientist who knows more about the catholic world than most members of the worldwide religion, but by the time the credits roll, his character reveals a certain amount of reverence for the faithful. The other acting performances are top-notch, including Skarsgård as the head Vatican cop, McGregor as the passionate keeper of the papal flame, and especially Armin Mueller-Stahl as the chief cardinal elector.
The music and cinematography set in Rome and The Vatican compliment the action in Angels and Demons as well, helping to place the audience in a place on most have only seen on TV.
Even so, the qualm I have about the movie points a finger at Dan Brown himself. The story, while complex with all its religious mood and reference, falls into some of the more clichéd devices of your garden-variety cop thriller movies. In other words, you can see the surprise ending coming early in the movie.
Still, Angels and Demons is a pretty good suspense/action/drama with a few poignant things to say about God, science, and the people who believe in both.