Thursday, May 28, 2009

Angels & Demons ***

Angels & Demons
*** out of ****

Who would have thought that a Harvard symbologist would have such a cool life? Robert Langdon returns (with a better haircut) as the next Indiana Jones-wannabe, played to perfection by the brilliant Tom Hanks. Angels & Demons is the sequel to the 2006 smash hit The Da Vinci Code, even though the book was a prequel. (Practically no knowledge of the first movie is needed to understand this movie, although you still may not understand it if you have seen the first one.) Ron Howard is a quality director who has made a summer popcorn movie. The result: a very intelligent dumb movie.
After the Pope's death, four cardinals are kidnapped and will be publicly executed at 8, 9, 10, and 11:00 at various places in the Vatican. At midnight, Vatican City will be destroyed by an antimatter bomb. It appears an ancient scientific cult called the Illuminati is behind the attack, seeking revenge for a centuries-old murder of four of its members. Naturally, the Vatican police call Robert Langdon to help them, you know, because Dr. Jones wasn't available. They also enlist the help of a physicist who helped create the antimatter, the beautiful Dr. Vetra, because there are practically no other women in the movie. Ewan McGregor is dashing as the Camerlengo (the Pope's replacement while they are choosing a new one). Danish actor Nikolaj Lie Kaas has a breakthrough performance as the trigger-happy assassin, as scary as he is deadly. The plot has them all zig-zagging around the Vatican several times, making the film feel slightly restrained despite the epic way Howard shoots the scenery. Hans Zimmer's score is overactive but beautiful and haunting. The plot is kind of predictable, but the end has multiple twists and shocks that will make you re-think the whole movie once it's done.
I would say this film is more exciting than The Da Vinci Code, but not as good a film. It's obviously fictitious, but slightly more relevant, as a main theme of the film is the coexistence of science and religion in this world, made most memorable by a monologue McGregor makes to all the cardinals. The film is all about history, but is a breathless action film that tries to make history look much more exciting. Langdon is always searching for something in history in order to solve a very immediate crisis, a strange formula for a film.
Despite all its obvious flaws, the film is made with grandeur and pizzazz, it's very watchable, and there's just no beating Hanks' acting. But be aware: it is rated PG-13 but really pushes the boundaries. There is lots of blood and violence that would be extreme for children or queasy viewers.
I would recommend this film to everyone who liked The Da Vinci Code, fans of the Dan Brown novels, and people who like intelligent thrillers.

You can watch the trailer here:

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