© 2009 Ray Wong
A followup of the Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown's international phenomenon, Angels & Demons continues with the theme that pits science against faith, with secret societies and symbology thrown in.
The Pope is dead, and the world watches as the Vatican is set to select a new Pope. Meanwhile, at CERN in Geneva, scientists succeeded in creating the world's first antimatter. But immediately a battery-powered canister containing the antimatter is stolen.
When four cardinals were kidnapped, the Swiss Guard comes to Dr. Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) for help. It seems like the Illuminati, a secret society that has disappeared for hundreds of years, has resurfaced. Soon it's clear that the incidents at CERN and Vatican City are related. The Illuminati promises to kill the one cardinal every hour starting at 8 P.M., culminating in the antimatter going off as a powerful bomb that would destroy Vatican City and part of Rome, killing everyone. With less than 24 hours to spare, Langdon must, with the help of Camerlengo McKenna (Ewan McGregor) and CERN physicist Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer), find the cardinals and the bomb in time by following the clues and solving a series of puzzles.
Reprising his role as Robert Langdon, Tom Hanks (Charlie Wilson's War) at least has better hair this time instead of that ridiculous mop in the Da Vinci Code. I also find Langdon an uninteresting, weak hero, and my feeling is further confirmed here. Langdon is intellectual, of course. But he's also passive. Sure, he did a few things here that may be considered heroic, including jumping into a pool trying to save someone. Still, Langdon is a boring hero. In a way, Tom Hanks is perfect for the role -- and that's not a jab at Tom Hanks as an actor. Simply said, he's not Indiana Jones/Harrison Ford.
As Camerlengo McKenna, Ewan McGregor (I Love You Phillip Morris) is effective even though his role turns out to be more complicated than what's on the surface. McGregor has the charm to pull it off. Ayelet Zurer (Vantage Point) is fine as CERN physicist who helps Langdon to solve the puzzles. However, the character never seems to be in real danger, and thus you don't really feel any special concerns for her.
The huge supporting cast includes Stellan Skarsgard (Mama Mia!) as Swiss Guards commander Richter, who serves as one of the suspects in this mystery; Danish actor Nikolaj Lie Kaas (Reconstruction) is effectively sinister as the assassin; Piefrancesco Favino (Miracle at St. Anna) and David Pasquesi (Leatherheads) are both good as Swiss Guards inspectors; and Armin Mueller-Stahl (the International) is understated as Cardinal Strauss.
Veteran scribes David Koepp (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) and Akiva Goldsman (I Am Legend) have weaved a complicated story with all the threads intact. The pace is fast, and all sides of the story are presented effectively. Still there is a lot of information to present here: author Dan Brown is known for his extensive research, and it's a difficult task to translate all that information to a screenplay while keeping the plot moving. Sometimes, the writers have to rely on heavy-handed expositions and explanation, usually through the long-winded Langdon who probably likes his lectures too much. To the writers' credit, they've altered or deleted some of Brown's most outrageous and implausible plot elements.
While the pace is good and the action unfolds in an exciting manner, the dialogue is only standard for thrillers. Nothing outrageously cheesy but also nothing that sets it apart. Also, the plot is bogged down by Brown's own weakness: thin motivations, implausible circumstances and coincidences, and predictable twists. The final revelation and twist are so obvious that anyone who is half a mystery fan would have guessed it already. It is further weakened by the flimsy motivation behind the grand scheme. At least in the book, as outrageous as it can be, has a dark and more believable reason behind everything. Also, the book is far more critical of the Catholic church and religious fanaticism, and lives up to the meaning of the title: angels and demons. The screenplay softens the blow, perhaps trying to appease the Christians who find the original novel blasphemous.
Still there is plenty of damning stuff going on, and director Ron Howard (Frost/Nixon) does his job setting up all the scenes, the suspense and the thrills. The actions are general exciting and the pace brisk. There's no question that Howard is a master in what he does. It's just a shame that he nor the experienced writers can't lift the film from the source material.
Stars: Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer, Stellan Skarsgard, Piefrancesco Favino, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Armin Mueller-Stahl, David Pasquesi
Director: Ron Howard
Writers: David Koepp, Akiva Goldsman (based on Dan Brown's novel)
Distributor: SONY Pictures
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of violence, disturbing images and thematic material
Running Time: 138 Minutes
Script – 6
Performance – 7
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 7
Production – 8
Total – 6.7 out of 10