Angels and Demons

religious-folkRon Howard’s adaptation of Dan Brown’s religious thriller The Da Vinci Code was one of the highest-grossing films of the decade, earning over US$230 million worldwide in its opening weekend. Yet you’d be hard pushed to find a critic who gave its contrived storyline and turgid script the thumbs up. Angels and Demons, which comes before The Da Vinci Code in Dan Brown’s canon but has been adapted for the big screen as a sequel, is slicker and pacier than its predecessor. Howard, along with adapters Akiva Goldsman and David Koepp, stick less rigidly to Dan Brown’s clunky prose this time round, resulting in a more confident, dazzling production. Unfortunately, despite the film’s glossy exterior, it tells a story that is both convoluted and, at time, utterly ludicrous.

The pope has just died and the Vatican is in turmoil. Four of its cardinals, the favourites to become the next pope, have been kidnapped and will be executed in succession by members of the Illuminati – a secret society that hates the Catholic church because of its persecution of scientists such as Galileo back in the middle ages. The group has also stolen a vial of antimatter from the CERN Large Hadron Collider in Geneva and turned it into a ticking time bomb which threatens to vaporise “a big chunk of Rome”, including the hundreds of thousands of faithful waiting in St Peter’s square to greet the new Pontiff.

Once again Professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is called in from Harvard to decipher the Illuminati’s arcane symbols. We pretty much have to trust his judgement, since Howard gives the audience no clues which might allow them to work out the assassins’ location for themselves. Neither do we find any of the recognisable artefacts that appeared in The Da Vinci Code, such as The Mona Lisa or The Lord’s Supper. Particularly baffling is why the Illuminati would bother to construct such an elaborate maze of symbols around their assassinations, which only a top-notch symbologist could decipher. The planned bombing is simply a revenge attack, so why not simply blow the place up? The science isn’t too hot either. CERN themselves admitted that it would take billions of years to produce enough antimatter to power a light bulb.

Robert Langdon is a hero devoid of personality, and Tom Hanks’ star appeal does little to soften the blow. The juiciest part is taken by Ewan McGregor who plays a papal court official and former helicopter pilot. He is supported by a strong cast of international stars, including Ayelet Zurer, Stellan SkarsgĂ„rd and Armin Mueller-Stahl.

Angels and Demons is a sleekly executed but unconvincing quasi-religious thriller with more plot holes than you can shake a stick at. Disappointing.

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