, 138 min, 2009
Tom Hanks (Robert Langdon), Ewan McGregor (Camerlengo Patrick McKenna), Ayelet Zurer (Vittoria Vetra), Stellan Skarsgård (Commander Richter), Pierfrancesco Favino (Inspector Olivetti), Nikolaj Lie Kaas (Assassin), Armin Mueller-Stahl (Cardinal Strauss), Thure Lindhardt (Chartrand), David Pasquesi (Claudio Vincenzi), Cosimo Fusco (Father Simeon), Victor Alfieri (Lieutenant Valenti), Franklin Amobi (Cardinal Lamasse), Curt Lowens (Cardinal Ebner), Bob Yerkes (Cardinal Guidera), Marc Fiorini (Cardinal Baggia (as Marco Fiorini)). Directed by Ron Howard and produced by John Calley, Brian Grazer, and Howard. Screenplay by David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman, based on the novel by Dan Brown.
Ron Howard’s Angels & Demons is as epic, labyrinthine, silly, rambunctious, and ultimately preposterous a thrill ride as you are likely to see this summer – all the more surprising then that it is involving from the first frame to the last.
Tom Hanks stars once again as Professor Robert Langdon, the Harvard numerologist from Howard’s The DaVinci Code(2006), also based on a Dan Brown bestselling novel, also an epic-length, labyrinthine, silly, and ultimately preposterous thriller – yet, somehow, not nearly as entertaining as this. That film stirred up controversy over a plot linking Opus Dei, a “secret society” (and one day, perhaps someone can explain to me how it’s a secret society if they have a name, mythos, and conspiracy theories abound over their existence) to DaVinci’s painting of the Mona Lisa. This one concerns a plot embroiling the Vatican in an age-old conflict with the Illuminati, another “secret” society whose history with the Roman Catholic Church consists of…oh, but we haven’t the time.
The Pope has died and an election of the new Pope is in the offing. The cardinals have arrived to take part in the process, but before long, four of the preferati, or “favorites to be,” are kidnapped and spread throughout the city in top-secret locations. It is up to Langdon to track them down and foil the Illuminati’s plan, which seems to be revenge for what the Catholic Church did to scientists like Galileo way back when.
In the previous film, Langdon was teamed with a pretty French policewoman played by Audrey Tautou (Amelie). Here, he’s working alongside an attractive young Italian woman named Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer), who works at the CERN Large Hedron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland. Early in the film, a sealed vial of rare anti-matter is stolen from the Collider and Vittoria’s father is murdered in the process. Soon after, a note from the Illuminati claiming credit for the theft arrives and the Vatican calls in Langdon.
Other key characters include the mysterious Assassin (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), who is torturing the preferati all over Vatican City while Langdon tries to follow the clues and seeks them out. Then there’s the young Camerelengo (Ewan McGregor), the adopted son of the late Pope who seems a bit too eager to cooperate with Langdon’s investigation. Cardinal Strauss (Armin Mueller-Stahl), meanwhile, is running the election and pretty much relegated to one location for the film’s entire 138 minute running time. And finally, there’s Richter (Stellan Skarsgard), who runs the Swiss Guard and seems at odds with Langdon at every turn.
The film was directed by Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Cinderella Man) and adapted by David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman from the novel by Dan Brown (it actually, apparently, came before The DaVinci Code in print, but the filmmakers have worked around that). For Howard, this is a light, goofy, skillfully-made lark after his great Oscar-nominated prestige picture Frost/Nixon (2008). Everyone needs a break every once in a while, right?
As a brainy, goofy hero, Robert Langdon ranks somewhere between Indiana Jones without the whip (think the early scenes in the classroom) and James Bond (without the gun – or the love life). Indeed, I imagine Langdon getting called on to solve one theological mystery after another, never quite falling into action hero clichés.
A confession: I’ve yet to read any of Dan Brown’s books, and I don’t anticipate doing so in the foreseeable future. That being said, if The DaVinci Code was an interesting mystery, Angels & Demons is an even more thrilling piece of pop entertainment. The plot is complicated and not a little contrived, the characters are pretty two-dimensional, and the technical production is meat-and-potatoes. But it’s so skillfully done, you can’t help but get sucked in.
Note: The extended edition runs 146 minutes on DVD.