Angels and Demons, set some time after Ron Howard’s previous adaptation The Da Vinci Code, finds Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon being summoned to The Vatican in order to help them with an impending crisis. As a new pope is set to be elected, a mysterious organization known as the Illuminati, an old villain to the Catholic Church, threatens to eradicate the holy city and everyone in it by using an unstable substance with bomb-like properties.
When speaking about this movie, I seem to always get the same basic opening question- is it better than The Da Vinci Code? The short answer is yes. Ron Howard has done a much better job on this venture of trimming the fat from the novel and leaving the audience with a far more engaging movie than the first film. Fans of the book should be rest assured that some of the more preposterous events have been wisely omitted. Hanks also fares better by showing much more confidence and comfort in his role as Langdon, which I’m sure is aided partly by a much deserved upgrade in his hairstyle.
The pacing is good, the music is good and the thrills are fine. The whole cast is definitely trying their hardest to make a solid suspenseful movie, and it does show. Portraying a Catholic priest, Ewan McGregor turns in an especially fine performance of being highly devout, but not fanatical or irrational.
There are a few things not quite right with Angels and Demons, however. To start, and this could be because I remembered the book rather vividly, for being a thriller I never became invested in the story or the characters. Again, I don’t know if this is because I knew how it was going to unfold, but while the action was non-stop, I never felt any great level of realistic suspense or danger.
Another issue I have I think rests with the way Langdon is portrayed. He’s just a little too much like a walking Google search engine. When the National Treasure series was created, it was unapologetically capitalizing off of the Dan Brown novels’ success. However, when we watch Nicholas Cage solve a puzzle, it’s believable because we see him doing actual research, or the audience gets to listen in on his thought process. Here, Hanks’ Langdon just has every answer at the tip of his fingers and it just never convinced me.
When I saw The Da Vinci Code, I came out of it thinking of all the things they could have done to make it a better film. With this, I’m not sure what could have been changed to make the movie more solid, but as it stands Angels and Demons is rather mediocre. It’s certainly not a bad movie; it’s just not that much fun either. I think this is a simple case of the Dan Brown books being great, entertaining beach reads whose stories are better left on paper than trying to adapt them for the screen.
If you really enjoy thrillers, Tom Hanks or Robert Langdon books in general, I say you should give this a rental when the time comes, but for now there are far better popcorn movies to see on the big screen this summer.
Final Grade B-
By Christopher Troilo
Originally Posted 5.15.2009