Angels & Demons

Director    Ron Howard
Starring    Tom Hanks, Ayelet Zurer, Ewan McGregor, Stellan Skarsgard, Armin Mueller-Stahl
Release    15 MAY (US) 14 MAY (UK)    Certificate 12A
3 stars


6th May 2009

Tom Hanks adopts his serious face: "I need to get to a library... fast!" Never has one line damned a film so completely. The book might have sold 83 billion copies, but The Da Vinci Code movie was turgid, self-important and - oddly, for a movie about the lineage of Jesus Christ - terminally dull. I'm happy to report, then, that follow-up Angels & Demons - released prior to The Da Vinci Code in novel form but a sequel-of-sorts on screen - is ten times the movie its predecessor was: very much a case of bigger, better, faster, more. It's also perhaps no coincidence that one action high point sees Hanks trashing a library.

Hanks returns as Harvard symbologist Dr. Robert Langdon, a buff boffin now wisely sans mullet. Langdon is called to the Vatican after a small amount of explosive anti-matter is stolen from the Large Hadron Collider at CERN (scientists, bite your lips) by ancient mysterious cult the Illuminati (your turn, religious historians). This shady organisation also kidnap four cardinals, who they plan to execute every hour until the bomb's detonation in St. Peter's Square at midnight, while the Church busies itself voting for its new pontiff (insert 'Pope Idol' joke here). Thankfully, in the grand tradition of dumbass terrorists, they leave a series of precise clues that only the most brilliant mind could decode. Durr.

Dan Brown's plotting is still poppycock of the highest order: preposterous, pseudo-religious gobbledegook delivered in a machine gun patter in the hope that no one will notice it's complete and total bollocks. Thankfully though, where Da Vinci Code traipsed from set-piece to set-piece with all the urgency of a comatose turtle, Angels & Demons has much more cut and thrust about it, with a ticking-clock time-frame adding a jolt of pace that sees its two-hour-plus run-time positively fly by. Imagine a parallel universe where 24 was broadcast on The History Channel.

It's what my mother would call 'gripping trash' - a TV programme or movie that would be deemed diabolical upon closer scrutiny, but as long as loud and interesting things keep happening and handsome people sound ever more sure of themselves, you'll remain in its thrall until the credits roll. Howard deserves some of the credit here: each of the four elemental 'death' scenes are directed with panache and visual flair and the movie's pace is grounded in zippy editing, as opposed to shots of Hanks wheezing down alleyways, hair flapping in the wind, like last time around. Kudos too, to composer Hans Zimmer, whose vivifying score also helps keep the tempo high throughout - it rarely lets up.

Langdon is half as smug here as he was in Da Vinci Code, though still comes across like a know-it-all museum tour guide trying to impress nonplussed youngsters with his knowledge of crypto-Judiac history. The script doesn't do him any favours: once he's uncovered a cryptic clue, he'll reel off an obscure passage of ancient literature, babble to himself a little ("Water... water... Bernini's Fountain Of Four Rivers! Of course!") and speed off to his next destination, leaving behind a befuddled audience with no choice other than to take his word for it. This happens a good five or six times, minimum. Go with it, dude.

If you're so inclined, you could spend a good fortnight picking holes in Dan Brown's story (we'll indulge ourselves just once: if you're planning a high-profile murder case, why hide the body deep underground where no one - save for our plucky symbologist - would ever find it?) but it'd be an exercise in futility. Brown's readers demand pulpy nonsense such as this, and to call him out on charges of being unrealistic is akin to having a pop at the Hulk for being green.

Angels & Demons is housewife-targeted holiday read nonsense, given a Hollywood spit 'n' shine and go-faster stripes by a once-burned, twice-shy director desperate to make amends. Its silliness is only matched by its earnestness and it takes huge artistic licence with both religion and technology - even wading clumsily into the 'faith versus science' with size-twelve clodhoppers - but it shouldn't be viewed as anything other than guiltily enjoyable summer blockbuster shlock. In other words, if you like gripping trash, you need to get to a cinema... fast!

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