Review: Angels & Demons

May 22, 2009 at 10:49 pm 3 comments

Following 2006’s The Da Vinci Code, Ron Howard brings us another adventure with everyone’s favorite Harvard-educated symbologist, Robert Langdon.  This time, he’s not uncovering any earth-shattering secrets hidden within priceless works of art, he’s uncovering secrets hidden in statues and churches throughout Rome.  A secret anti-Catholic cult known as the Illuminati have placed a powerful bomb somewhere in or near Vatican City and threaten to destroy the seat of authority for the world’s 1 billion-plus Catholics.

The bomb, made up of highly unstable anti-matter, was stolen from the CERN laboratory in Switzerland, and tasked with its retrieval is beautiful physicist (aren’t they all?) Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer).  In order to make sense of the clue left behind by a mysterious Assassin (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), the Vatican brings on Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), despite the headache he gave them following the events of The Da Vinci Code.  For the next two hours, Vetra and Langdon will search all over Rome for a bomb that will consume all of Vatican City in a destructive light.

Before going to see this movie, I remember hearing others talk about it and how they were disappointed that several plot points that were in the book were left out in this screen adaptation.  That doesn’t surprise me in the least, considering that virtually anything based on a book and transferred to a movie is going to lose something.  Not everything in a book will work well as a movie, it’s one of the golden rules of screenwriting.  That being said, I have read the book (I liked it more than The Da Vinci Code sequel), but I honestly don’t remember most of the major events; I remember the beginning and the very end, that’s about it.  So, watching this movie was almost like experiencing the story for the first time.

The story in itself is pretty easy to follow: there’s a bomb in the city, and our heroes have only a few scant hours to find it.  What will confuse some is the motivation behind the events.  Why do the Illuminati hate the Church so much?  Who is the Assassin, and is he really part of the Illuminati?  None of this is helped by the wealth of Italian terms thrown at the audience (camerlengo, preferiti, etc.), so it’s easy to see how a movie goer expecting to see a typical summer action-thriller could be confused 15 minutes into the movie.

Language barrier aside, Angels & Demons is a fairly enjoyable thriller.  While there’s nothing in this story that is as controversial as The Da Vinci Code, some Catholics may be put off by the portrayal of the Catholic Church.  The movie doesn’t take a stand in showing the Church in a good or bad light, it does brush upon certain social issues like gay marriage, and the Church’s reaction (or lack thereof) toward them.  The movie does, however, raise the eternal question of: “science or religion?”  To be fair, the movie handles it well enough, stating that many believe science and religion can coexist, with one supporting the other.

Without delving too far into weighty theological discussions, Ron Howard is able to keep the pace of the book going well throughout the movie.  Once Langdon and Co. learn their first clue, it doesn’t really stop until the climax (which I thought was nicely done, but I won’t spoil it for anyone here).  One thing that I liked about the book is that it was much more of a page turner than The Da Vinci Code, and the actors handle the breakneck speed well.  Hanks is good, as usual, and Ayelet Zurer, while lacking something that Audrey Tautou had in the previous movie, was believable as a brainy physicist.

Unfortunately, Stellan Skarsgard, who plays the head of Vatican City’s Swiss Guard, Commander Richter, isn’t really given much to do except scowl at Hanks.  And as much as I like him, Ewan McGregor as Camerlengo McKenna may not have been the right fit for this role.  While he wasn’t necessarily bad, I just didn’t really get a sense that McGregor was owning the role.  There’s also something that was pointed out to me, about how Langdon goes about finding his clues.  It’s almost like sheer dumb luck, like he could sneeze and see something on the ground that looks like whatever he’s looking for.  I preferred the way they did it in the other movie: a visual representation appearing in the air, showing us how Langdon is piecing together the clues.

Angels & Demons won’t win over anyone that disliked The Da Vinci Code.  To me, this is the better movie, just as the book is the better of the two books, only because it moves faster and doesn’t let up until the story is done.  Fans of the series should enjoy this, as it did feel like sort of a roller-coaster ride through Vatican City and Rome.  Viewers willing to go on another clue-hidden-among-works-of-art adventure should be moderately pleased with this one.  It’s almost guaranteed that Hollywood will try and develop a movie version of Dan Brown’s next Robert Langdon novel The Lost Symbol, and I think the series is in Ron Howard’s capable hands.


(images from Yahoo!)


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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Hasanuddin  |  May 29, 2009 at 8:37 am

    Comparing the book to the movie, why do you suppose they dropped the curious appearence of three sixes in the CERN logo for the movie, but not the book?

  • 2. littleman00  |  May 29, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    I think it was to streamline the story. Mentioning the three 6’s in the CERN logo may have a negative connotation to it, since three 6’s in Christian lore is related to evil. The plot of the book is more complex than of the movie, so they had to simplify things for the script. Trying to explain the CERN logo (whether it means CERN is evil or whatever) would’ve taken up valuable screen time, and may not have had any impact on the story as a whole.

  • 3. Hasanuddin  |  May 31, 2009 at 2:21 am

    I don’t disagree that books get streamlined for the sake of a movie. However I do disagree that 666 refers to evil, given christian texts. Hollywood horror lore makes that connection, not the Bible. In that test, 666 only related to the “End”

    Anyway, the ironies are what I find truly interesting. For example, the fact that this movie comes out making the scifi claim of the dangers of antimatter just at a time when new theory is being put forward of the central role/hope/use of antimatter, (which still maintaining the potential significance of CERN’s 666.)

    See the ongoing debate at


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