A follow-up to The DaVinci Code, Ron Howard‘s latest outing features fun locations and gritty violence. This installment (which mentions Langdon’s past run-ins) pits science against religion, or more precisely, religious tradition. The Cern collider has managed to capture anti-matter, which was quickly stolen by an evildoer. Meanwhile, the Pope has died and the college of cardinals is about to go into conclave and choose a new leader. On the eve of the conclave, the preferiti, the favorite four choices, are kidnapped and the bad guy threatens to blow up the Vatican — in prose, of course. His communications are “dense” and so a Vatican police officer swoops in and grabs Harvard professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) for help. His sometimes-sidekick is revealed to be the lovely Italian scientist who headed up the physics experiment gone haywire.
The two run around Rome, trailed by various levels of police/guards/henchmen, with time ticking away. They have to beat the assassin to the punch, by following clues left by Galileo and his ilk — aka the “Illuminati.” Langdon uses this to get into the Vatican archives (access that has so far been denied) by gaining the confidence of the Camerlengo (aptly played by Ewan MacGregor).
My problems with this movie are more to do with the story, than the filmmaking. I didn’t read this book (I read The DaVinci Code before that film came out) but it doesn’t hang together nearly as well as the first movie. There are too many lucky happenstances and not enough mystery-solving. It’s too bad, because the premise was interesting. Even if it were “legend” versus “real” history, it can still be fun to immerse yourself in. But the Bourne Identity-like camerawork and sometimes-graphic violence overtake the heart of the story-telling details. It seems too preoccupied with pulling the wool over the eyes of its audience. We are supposed to suspect one person, then another, then look away and miss the truth but it doesn’t really work. And the poor CGI boom shots of various locations do not help. I can’t believe Ron Howard couldn’t get permits to shoot in Rome. The shell game distracts from what could be a fun quest movie. It has a great cast — including Armin Mueller-Stahl and Stellan Skarsgard — and they are all admirable but they can only lift it to a certain point. If you ever needed the definition of the difference between a “movie” and a “film,” Angels and Demons is the perfect example.