During the 138 minute playing time of "Angels & Demons," Ron Howard's follow-up to the hit film "The Da Vinci Code," a few random thoughts entered mein mind:
- Has Hans Zimmer ever written a more irritating original score?
- Are the Dan Brown novels anywhere near as illogical as the films?
- How can a Harvard professor and symbologist who specializes in all things related to Catholicism manage to go his entire life and never learn an ounce of Italian?
- Why on earth would a killer bent on revenge towards the Catholic church bother to construct an elaborate game of cat-and-mouse?
- Surprisingly, despite all its excesses, absurdities and that godawful score, "Angels & Demons" is downright entertaining and far moreso than its predecessor.
That's the kicker, isn't it? Despite everything, "Angels & Demons" is a beautifully photographed, well acted and exciting thriller that never lets up during its 30 minutes too long 138 minute running time.
Tom Hanks is back as Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, who finds himself summoned to the Vatican by the Vatican after the death of a beloved and progressive Pope and the kidnapping of the four preferati, the four Cardinals considered most likely to ascend to the papacy. Simultaneously, a life-changing scientific experiment successful contains antimatter which is, not so surprisingly, promptly stolen and figures into this holy mess.
Are you still following?
It gets more confusing.
Actually, stop right there.
Drop the logic. Forego the intellect. You will enjoy "Angels & Demons" on a significantly greater level if you: 1) Have read Dan Brown's novel and are familiar with all the bits and pieces, and 2) If you stop searching for logic and reason in the middle of the film.
In fact, for a film that largely centers on the battle between science and religion, "Angels & Demons" is surprisingly devoid of anything resembling logic and intelligence.
Does this mean faith wins in the film? Only if you really enjoy seeing most Cardinals portrayed as greedy, power hungry and flesh-driven men whose humanness is often used as an excuse for boorish behavior.
There goes the hate mail again.
Langdon is a role that Hanks could easily play in his sleep and, to his credit, he doesn't do so. Unlike "The Da Vinci Code," there's actually some life to "Angels & Demons." While "The Da Vinci Code" was, solely on the strength of the novel's popularity, a smash hit, "Angels & Demons" integrates into the symbolism and dogmatic debates a delightful array of chase scenes, car chases, action sequences and outright thrilling moments.
Overkill? Undoubtedly...also, infinitely more entertaining than "The Da Vinci Code."
Replacing Audrey Tatou as his tagalong this time around, Ayelet Zurer lacks Tatou's internal spark but largely makes up for it with an intelligent, grounded performance and a solid chemistry with the equally grounded Hanks.
Ewan McGregor shows up as the Camerlengo and the former pontiff's adopted son (now THAT is a conflict of interest), in a role that vacillates between "Is he bad?" and "Is he good?" While McGregor isn't exactly called upon to create cinematic greatness, his ability to simultaneously project sweetness with an underlying sizzle leaves one guessing until the very end.
Underrated actors Armin Mueller Stahl and Stellan Skarsgard are solid in supporting roles, Stahl as Cardinal Strauss and Skarsgard as the head of the Pope's Swiss Guard.
As one could easily expect, "Angels & Demons" has certainly been controversial given its portrayal of the inner workings of Catholicism, however, one can't help but get the feeling that at least part of the controversy is a studio creation designed to create a "got to see it" fever. There's nothing particularly offensive in "Angels & Demons," and director Ron Howard does a nice job of balancing Langdon's seemingly obvious agnosticism and the faith aspects of Catholicism and Catholics.
The film's production values are stellar across the board, though certainly the chase scenes across Rome are illogical and impractical despite being awesome to behold. Creations of The Sistine Chapel, the Pantheon and a variety of churches are absolutely gorgeous.
"Angels & Demons" runs a good 30 minutes too long and easily has 2-3 places where one thinks "this is the end" only to look up and see the action transitioning to another scene. While these additional sequences are certainly action-packed, they look and feel excessive and become exhausting under the weight of Hans Zimmer's thundering rhythms of self importance.
Entertaining yet not nearly as important as it thinks it is, "Angels & Demons" is simply a good film that could have been much better and, yes, could have been much, much worse.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic