Home Movies: 'Angels & Demons' a Biblical Bore


Rarely before has wordy exposition been employed more excessively and to lesser effect than in Angels & Demons, Ron Howard’s middling follow-up to The Da Vinci Code.

For those craving action and suspense, there’s little to be found here, despite a whirlwind denouement that sees our hero, Harvard professor and renowned symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), racing around Rome in search of an Illuminati killer. (More on that later.) Instead, screenwriters David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman subject us to a heavy-handed history lesson about the Catholic church that owes much to author Dan Brown’s tendentiously researched novel.

The good news: Hanks, who made a lasting impression in the first film mostly for his ill-advised mullet, has cut his hair and musters sufficient gravitas to ballast a plot fraught with preposterous twists and turns. While his presence alone doesn’t redeem Angels & Demons, Hanks manages to keep the proceedings more grounded than they have any right to be, even as he’s forced to regurgitate the stalest of solemn-sounding dialogue.

Fans of Brown’s popular mystery novels should be familiar enough with the plot, which Koepp and Goldsman have painstakingly preserved. Summoned to Vatican City to solve the kidnapping of four cardinals, Langdon is thrust onto the trail of a religious-minded psycho who brands his victims with symbols of the Illuminati, a secret organization with a centuries-old vendetta against the church. Making matters worse, there’s a canister of antimatter on the loose that threatens to destroy the city and all its storied landmarks.

Those landmarks loom large, not simply because they provide helpful clues to the killer’s whereabouts. Moreso than in The Da Vinci Code, Howard seems awed by the city’s gothic architecture and the aesthetically rich pageantry of the church, which he captures in exhaustive detail more befitting a travelogue than a murder mystery. Yet for all the movie’s impressive cinematography, Brown's puzzles fall uncomfortably flat on screen.

There is plenty of ponderous hemming and hawing about the role of the Vatican in a forward-thinking society, and a host of supporting players (Ewan McGregor, Stellan Skarsgård, Armin Mueller-Stahl) whose intentions remain murky until the big revelation. Despite their capable efforts, Angels & Demons fails to replicate the page-turning intrigue that made Brown’s novels so successful, and comes off as a long-winded bore.

EXTRAS include an expanded director's cut and behind-the-scenes documentaries about the difficulties adapting Brown's novel to the screen and the painstaking recreation of Vatican City's most famous attractions. For fans only.

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