Angels & Demons

It must be terrific fun to be a symbologist. When you’re not writing dry books only three people ever read, you’re skipping around the globe on someone else’s dime, racing to solve mysteries, hanging out with fetching European women, and making everyone around you look like slack-jawed yokels as you decode things based on arcane pictographs only you and your three readers have even heard of. Of course, people are always trying to kill you, and if I were you I wouldn’t go into an airtight archive where the oxygen is controlled by electricity unless I was damn sure they’re not going to be cutting the power randomly all over the city.

In Angels & Demons, Tom Hanks’ Robert Langdon does all of this and more. Hanks has a better haircut than he did in his previous Langdon opus The Da Vinci Code, and he has more to do — in cinematic terms, anyway. The whole plot unfolds over the course of one hectic evening; four cardinals have been snatched from the Vatican and hidden all over Vatican City, and one of them will be killed each hour until midnight, at which time an anti-matter bomb will go kaboom and take out Vatican City “and some of Rome as well.” Whew! Hanks is in good shape this time out, and he sure needs to be. Langdon is a good swimmer with good breath control, the latter of which will help him not once but twice.

Like The Da Vinci Code, which in Dan Brown’s bibliography came second but in film chronology came first, Angels & Demons is a lot of religioso hugger-mugger involving vast conspiracies, powerful old men left to die laborious deaths, and a skulking assassin (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) who kills pretty much everyone he looks at. We’re to understand that the Catholic Church is under siege by members of the Illuminati as revenge for what the Church did to them centuries ago. The kidnapped cardinals and the anti-matter bomb come into the picture just as the Pope has given up the ghost, but did he expire of natural causes or could it be … murder?

The ticking-clock plot gives Angels & Demons more urgency and muscular structure than The Da Vinci Code, which comprised mostly scenes of Tom Hanks sitting around reading things and then sitting around telling skeptical people about what he’d read. The Da Vinci Code, which took as a given that Jesus Christ wasn’t actually the son of God, had only its ready-made controversy going for it, but there’s not very much in Angels & Demons that Catholics will be buzzing about over coffee after Mass. Indeed, the Catholics are in Trouble, and Langdon keeps swinging into action to save them. That he’s not a believer makes his quest more credible — cardinals or not, these men are people and don’t deserve to be crucified upside down in a fish tank full of Illuminati lobsters, or whatever.

Ron Howard, returning to the director’s chair of this franchise, keeps things moving and gives Hanks some room to be likable. Howard still can’t really do action; the aforementioned scene in the airtight Vatican archive is pretty slack, and we assume Langdon’s companion in the room has died until we see him outside later catching a grateful smoke. The last half hour or so hip-wades into too much exposition, and I’m still not sure exactly what role Ewan McGregor’s earnest priest plays in it all. (I mean, I know, but am not sure how all the pieces fit.) But it’s fun to watch Tom Hanks hoof it all over Vatican City for two hours, trying to save some cardinal from being licked to death by Illuminati puppies, or whatever, and since there’s going to be at least one more of these things, it’s good to know this second one wasn’t a complete waste.

Explore posts in the same categories: adaptation, thriller

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