Unlike The Da Vinci Code, I found the Angels & Demons novel to be impenetrable… maybe it was just my mood, but I saw the movie without having read the book. That may have been a positive for the movie.
Angels & Demons has a number of things going for it: it’s less convoluted than The Da Vinci Code, which means it’s less clunky, less herky-jerky; Tom Hanks has vastly more chemistry with Ayelet Zurer than he did with Audrey Tautou; the lack of a campy eccentric performance a la Sir Ian McKellan in the The Da Vinci Code is made up by several moments of genuine humor [though, unfortunately, no more wit], and Professor Robert Langdon [Tom Hanks] has foregone his hideous, slicked-back do and gone for a center part that makes him look like a middle-aged Reggie [see: Archie Comics], while, while still odd, is a vast improvement.
The idea of the Catholic Church being under attack by the long underground Illuminati allows for the same kind of mix of fact and fiction that made The Da Vinci Code relatively compelling despite its clunkiness. Placing this attack during the period immediately following the death of the pope is good as it catches the church at its most vulnerable.
The nature of the attack is such that there had to be someone inside the Vatican to make it happen which gives us an intriguing array of possible infiltrators. Is it the Pope’s Camerlengo, Father Patrick McKenna [Ewan McGregor], a youthful priest with a curious tie to the late pontiff; could it be Commander Richter [Stellan Skarsgard] head of the Swiss Guard, who controls the security for the Pope; might it be Cardinal Strauss [Armin Mueller-Stahl], an older Cardinal with great influence – but not one of the four most likely candidates to replace the late pontiff?
Because the threat includes the kidnapping of the four most likely candidates – and the destruction of Vatican City via the releasing of anti-matter, Langdon is joined in his assignment to find the missing cardinals and prevent the explosions by beautiful physicist Vittoria Vetra [Zurer].
Ron Howard’s pacing is much better and his transitions smoother in Angel & Demons – he clearly recognized that The Da Vinci Code was not his best work. Unfortunately, even with all the improvements in this production, it’s still not more than a reasonably solid entertainment that doesn’t really bear repeat viewings. Still it looks much better than its predecessor [Rome being an incredibly beautiful place] and the basic storytelling is decent enough. Which is to say that, unless there’s an audio commentary, I certainly wouldn’t rush out to buy the DVD.
Final Grade: B-