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Angels and Demons better than Da Vinci

by Glen Baity

If you, like me, didn’t read The Da Vinci Code prior to watching the 2006 film version, chances are you never will. The long-winded, nonsensical film made a poor case for what I hear is actually a pretty good read. Angels and Demons might sell a few more copies of its companion volume, but only if you’re judging it by its series predecessor. The film vaults easily over the low bar set by Da Vinci, but this story of political intrigue and secret societies swirling around the Catholic church still fails to impress.

Your guide, once again, is Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks, sporting better hair this time), Harvard symbologist and controversial church historian. This time around he finds himself spirited away to the Vatican, which is embroiled in chaos surrounding the selection of the next pope. The four prime candidates for succession have been abducted, and Langdon comes to believe that the Illuminati, a centuries-old secret society once persecuted by the church, may be behind it. This is all tied up with a plot to destroy the Vatican itself, which of course brings up the first of several pertinent questions unaddressed by any of the characters: Why bother with the stolen cardinals if you’re just going to kill everyone and everything in the Vatican anyway? The weapon of mass destruction is a whopper, too — someone has stolen a particle of anti-matter from the Large Hadron Collider on the French- Swiss border. This particle is suspended between two magnetic poles in a small, battery-operated canister. If the battery runs out, the anti-matter will come in contact with matter and things go downhill very, very quickly. It sounds like something Cobra Commander would have come up with after a three-night bender. To stop the unmaking of Vatican City and save the kidnapped cardinals, Langdon enlists the help of a physicist from the LHC (Ayelet Zurer) who also, conveniently, seems to know quite a bit of arcane church history, and the camerlengo of the church (Ewan McGregor), who finds himself in a temporary position of power while the new pope is elected. In the opposing corner is Stellan Skarsgard as the head of Vatican security, one of several menacing-looking characters enlisted to throw viewers off the scent of a pretty transparent third-act twist. The film’s first hour is low on suspense (though you’d never know it from Hans Zimmer’s booming score, which seems to have been written for a much more exciting movie). It’s consumed by the same awkward, overly explanatory conversations that passed for plot development in the first film. Unlike its predecessor, however, Angels and Demons gets more exciting as it progresses. The last reel is almost an action movie; indeed, in those rare moments when one character or another isn’t lecturing you know about some dubious fact of Catholic or Illuminati history, you might find yourself unexpectedly entertained. But it takes a while to get to that point, and it’s ultimately not worth the effort. I like virtually every member of this cast and creative team, but they’re all fighting an uphill battle with this material, which might work fine on the page but, like Da Vinci, fails to translate to the screen. Throw in plenty of ludicrous plot points — the resolution of the antimatter thread is uniquely lame — and you’ve got one inedible summertime recipe.

To comment on this story, e-mail Glen Baity at glen.baity@gmail.com.

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