Friday 29 May 2009

Movie Review: Angels and Demons (2009)

The Vatican has a few problems. The Pope has just died. Four of the Church's most senior Cardinals, the group from which the Pope's successor will emerge, have been kidnapped, and are threatened with death within hours. And an anti-matter bomb with the capability of flattening a large part of Rome is ticking away, somewhere in the Vatican, about to explode at midnight. Who're you gonna call?

Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), the symbolist who was very much a thorn in the side of the Church while unravelling The Da Vinci Code.

The Vatican calls upon Langdon since the evil forces behind the kidnappings, the death threats and the ticking bomb appear to be a re-emergent Illuminati, a science-loving fraternity that locked horns with the Church centuries ago. The Vatican had brutally repressed the Illuminati, who appear to be back to extract a gruesome and final revenge.

The Illuminati demonstrate their cleverness by hiding clues to their intentions using riddles, and by revealing seemingly incredible ambigrams -- perfect terrain for the skills of Langdon. He needs to race against time to follow hidden religious clues to try and rescue the kidnapped Cardinals before they are sequentially and brutally eliminated, while at the same time trying to find the hidden bomb, and uncover the whole evil plot behind one very bad night.

Although novelist Dan Brown wrote Angels and Demons before The Da Vinci Code, director Ron Howard and writers David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman cleverly transform it into a sequel movie. Hanks returns as a thinner and less dour Langdon. Ewan McGregor is the Camerlengo, the stand-in papal authority dealing with the threats while a new Pope is chosen. And the token female scientist is Ayelet Zurer, who mostly rolls across the movie doing a good impersonation of a fifth wheel.

Angels and Demons is much more crisp and sharp than the mess of the movie that Howard managed to mangle out of The Da Vinci Code. Although this is helped by a more straightforward original story, the real improvements were achieved by being brave enough to streamline the movie compared to the book, eliminating characters and scenes and improving several plot twists.

The result is that Angels and Demons works just as well as a movie as it did as a book, despite being less faithful to the original story, while The Da Vinci Code was a disastrous movie trying to be too faithful to a brilliant book.

Angels and Demons will not win any prizes, but it is an entertaining Rome-set thriller, complete with modern pseudo-science, historical gobbly-gook, gruesome deaths, and a story that effectively fights its way through the Rome traffic snarls and the gathering crowds in St. Peter's Square.

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