FORWARD: I’ve never written a forward to a review before, but because of the large amount of mail I have received about this movie I felt it necessary. In response to the people who have e-mailed me with long tracts regarding Dan Brown’s book, the movie, The Illuminati and the veracity of the book, I point you toward the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano review of the film. They described Angels and Demons as “harmless entertainment which hardly affects the genius and mystery of Christianity.” Calling the movie “a gigantic and smart commercial operation” the review noted that it is filled with historical inaccuracies but went on to suggest that one could make a game of pointing out all of the film’s historical mistakes. I’m with them. This is a movie, not a history lesson, so there is nothing in my review about the historical accuracy of the film. It’s simply a review of a big summer thriller that a lot of people are interested in.
Harvard Professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is back in action. Three years after he uncovered the complicated personal life of Jesus Christ in The Da Vinci Code he’s once again using his knowledge of symbology to unravel the mystery of a secret brotherhood called the Illuminati and prevent a terrorist act against the Vatican. What’s more, he’ll do it all in just one night. Sounds thrilling, yes?
Unfortunately it isn’t.
Most of the elements from Dan Brown’s bestselling book Angels and Demons are in place, although several characters have been omitted and story lines reconfigured and condensed in the name of brevity.
Summarizing the story, however, brings a simplicity that sucks most of the mystery and colorful details contained in the novel from the movie. Langdon seems to be able to unravel clues, some hundreds of years old, with such ease that Angels and Demons becomes simply an elaborate game of connect-the-dots rather than a fully fleshed out story.
It’s a big summer movie, so we shouldn’t really expect sophisticated North by Northwest style intrigue, but since the suspense lacks the action should take up the slack. Unfortunately though, while A&D wants to be an ecclesiastical National Treasure, it contains few of the thrills of those popular Nic Cage movies. For example, one long action sequence in the Vatican Archives is about as breathtaking as you would image an action scene set in a library to be.
Director Ron Howard fills the screen with handsome images of Rome but every time the movie works up a head of steam Robert “Mr. Exposition” Langdon steps in with a long winded explanation of the history behind the various clues and symbols that sucks much of the movie’s momentum.
Angels and Demons isn’t as talky as Da Vinci Code, but its fatal flaw is the Langdon character. In the books he is the historical tour guide who provides the facts to bind the story together. On film, however, he comes across as a windbag who simply supports the story instead of adding to it.
That being said, Angels and Demons is a vast improvement over The Da Vinci Code. The pace has been ramped up and the running time chopped but even though these Dan Brown adaptations are Hanks and Howard’s most successful movies, they aren’t their best. If they choose to work together again I hope it’s in Splash 2 or Apollo 13: Off to Mars! and not another tepid Langdon adventure.