Good and bad
The title is basically its own review—fun, but with hiccups
Angels & Demons, like The DaVinci Code before it, is sort of like an international version of the National Treasure films—but without the comic relief and told with less enthusiasm.
Director Ron Howard and star Tom Hanks return to create a film version of the second of Dan Brown’s bestsellers. Hanks again takes the lead role of symbologist and Harvard professor Robert Langdon, whose expertise in ancient secret society lore makes him once again indispensable.
This time around, the Vatican has received a coded message said to be from a group called the Illuminati, apparently forced underground by the Church centuries before and just now taking vengeance. To put a wrinkle in things, the pope has just died and the cardinals are in session to vote in his successor—except a few are missing, a part of the Illuminati plot to take down the Vatican.
Langdon is joined by scientist Vittoria Vetra (conventions alone tell us she’s a beautiful foreigner, and this film by all means follows conventions). Vittoria was working on a project that the Illuminati decided to use against the Church, reviving the old battle between religion and science.
The best parts of the film—the revelations of ancient lore, signs left by artists and basically the whole mystery of this secret society that calls itself the Illuminati—unfortunately are relegated to background noise. Langdon speedily tells the story of certain artworks or scientists while he and Vittoria (Ayelet Zurer) are being whisked away from location to location, all the while trying to save the lives of the missing cardinals—and the Vatican itself.
Hanks is in typical Hanks form here, fast-talking but otherwise the same character we’ve seen elsewhere. The wild card is Ewan McGregor, who plays Camerlengo Patrick McKenna, who holds the power of the pope’s office until a successor is named. He plays his part well, but there’s also a generic quality to his performance.
As far as the plot is concerned, there’s a lot of great stuff here, so the film itself is ultimately a fun ride—but not necessarily a satisfying one. Many of the plot points seem too convenient to be coincidence, and therefore feel forced (the same problem, incidentally, I had with The DaVinci Code). Plus, obvious foreshadowing makes otherwise surprising moments seem dull or cliché. Other scenes merely scratch the surface of big issues—faith, for example—but then get forgotten.
For those looking for a thriller with a little history on the side, by all means, Angels & Demons may be just the thing for you. But it won’t win any Oscars and doesn’t stand a chance, at least in this reviewer’s book, against Nic Cage and his National Treasure hunts.