Angels and Demons reunites Tom Hanks and Ron Howard for another Dan Brown adaptation. While Brown's book was a prequel to the author's best-selling The Da Vinci Code, this installment in the movie franchise is set up as a sequel.
The Da Vinci Code received awful reviews when it debuted, mostly due to its excruciatingly slow pace. It then went on to earn a gazillion dollars, proving there's an appetite for escapist movies involving Vatican conspiracy theories. But while the pacing is much improved in Angels and Demons, the mindless entertainment part is basically ruined thanks to an enormous amount of expository dialogue. Every time the action starts to click along, every time the mystery deepens, Hanks's professor character shows up with another long-winded history lesson that's completely pointless in terms of understanding the plot. In other words, it's a buzzkill.
To see why this would be a much better experience if the professor were muzzled, read more.
The story begins promisingly enough with some high-stakes circumstances. The beloved pope is dead! The preferiti — the four cardinals up for pope — have been kidnapped! The kidnapper is leaving clues full of strange symbols! This must be a job for a symbologist!
Enter Harvard scholar Robert Langdon (Hanks), whom we first see buff and tanned (and without that terrible bouffant he sported the last time) swimming laps. A man with a briefcase approaches. In the first of many "Thank you, Captain Obvious" moments, Langdon pops up for air and explains in great detail that a symbol on the briefcase must mean the man is from the Vatican. And then the man says, "Yes. I am from the Vatican." That's the sort of thing that happens all throughout this movie.
Regardless, the chase is on to save the cardinals from a mad man who Langdon believes is part of an ancient group of scientists/terrorists called the Illuminati. Adding to the suspense is a dangerous "God particle," stolen from an Italian biophysicist named Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer), ticking away like a time bomb and threatening to blow the Holy City to smithereens.
Further complicating the story is a cast of Vatican power players filled out by three excellent actors: Armin Mueller-Stahl, Stellan Skarsgard, and Ewan McGregor. I wish these characters had their own movie in which they could maneuver around each other in the aftermath of the pope's mysterious death. But no, they have to call in that yappy professor, who takes forever to explain things the audience has already figured out.
While the first half of the movie is predictable and mind-numbing, the final act is so preposterous it's actually fun. The climactic scene is so silly and nonsensical you'll likely have fun talking about it for days (I know I have). The set design and costumes are actually quite beautiful, as is the cinematography, which gives many of the scenes a lovely, heavenly glow.
In the end the ingredients are all there for a stylish and fun (and most holy) suspense thriller. Too bad Howard and his team ruined it by talking too much.
Photos courtesy of Sony Pictures