Written by David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman
Directed by Ron Howard
Starring Tom Hanks, Ayelet Zurer, Ewan McGregor and Armin Mueller-Stahl
Camerlengo Patrick McKenna: Science and religion are not enemies. There are simply some things that science is too young to understand.
It all appropriately starts out of focus. If there are secrets that have remained elusively intact throughout history, they belong to the Roman Catholic church, buried somewhere deep within the Vatican archives. And if there is one fictional character capable of deciphering these cryptically encoded secrets, it is Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks). While originally written as a prequel to THE DA VINCI CODE, author, Dan Brown’s ANGELS & DEMONS has been translated to film as a sequel to the controversial counterpart. Last time out, the general consensus was that the book was better than the movie and, from what I gather, most Brown fans consider ANGELS & DEMONS to be a better book. Ron Howard, the director of both projects, has got a lot to live up to. As the film comes into focus though, it becomes clear that Howard has ignored the fans prayers and this film in the likeness of the first.
The two uncredited stars of ANGELS & DEMONS are introduced in the first few scenes. They are science and religion. Howard gives us religion by inundating the viewer with extreme close-up’s of was seals on parchment and incense burners. The iconography is meant to be grandiose and looming but actually comes across as dated and cliché. Science comes in the form of anti-matter. A team of scientists is about to whipe opposing protons and atoms at each at an incredible speed inside a great big tube underground that could potentially devastate most of Europe if the experiment were to go awry. Needless to say, it does not and subsequently, science and religion meet in the experiment’s success with what is called the God particle. It also just so happens that a pope has just died and the process has begun to choose a new one. Someone on the inside of the Vatican walls decides that this period of transition is the perfect time to use this God particle to bring down God’s representation here on earth.
THE DA VINCI CODE, initially book and inevitably the film, were decidedly controversial. Brown presented theories about Jesus’ lineage that would essentially question a serious chunk of Catholic history. ANGELS & DEMONS however, is certainly more violent but also much less an attack on the religion itself and much more just a mystery that takes place in religious settings. Hanks returns as Langdon. He is not surprisingly solid in the role but he doesn’t bring anything new at the same time. Langdon must solve a series of puzzles that were created centuries prior in order to map out a course that will lead to four cardinals that have been kidnapped and threatened with murder. What makes ANGELS & DEMONS distinctly more gripping than its predecessor is Langdon’s time limit. He must figure out the puzzles and hit certain points in Vatican City at certain hours and he seems to be constantly playing catch-up. In this regard, the new Langdon is sharp but human after all.
It is fashionable if not just facile these days to base a premise on the promise that the end days are coming. Given its religious context, ANGELS & DEMONS is one of the few films to deal with the subject that actually seems justified in doing so. It asks the question whether the end will come at the hand of God or the hand of man but goes even further to suggest that the hand of man is just an extension of the hand of God. Unfortunately, Howard’s hand lacks the gravitas of the Creator’s.