Angels & Demons: It's all a bit too complicated

2009-05-17 00:00



THE Vatican has obviously learnt a thing or two since The Da Vinci Code by calling Angels & Demons nothing more than “harmless entertainment”. No controversy, no hype. But then, to take such a flimsy film seriously would make anyone look stupid, so better to let it vanish into oblivion under its own weaknesses.

Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code was the engrossing sequel to Angels & Demons, although it was filmed first. It’s a hard act for a prequel to follow.

The scene for the action is set by two events. First, the death of a pope who we are pontifically told by a CNN-type newscast was much loved by his flock and respected by the world at large for his liberal reign. In Switzerland, meanwhile, the elusive “God-particle”, a scrap of anti-matter, is born in the Large Hadron Collider, an event monitored on behalf of the Vatican by a priest whose murder brings in the sleuthing talents of Dr Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), notable “symbologist” and expert on things the Catholic Church doesn’t even know about itself.

He’s whisked off to Rome from Harvard, where he’s a professor, in a Vatican jet and as he lands he’s immediately on the trail of who else but the the Illuminati, those infamous schemers against belief and religion. They’ve stolen the “God-particle”, and to add to their crimes they’ve kidnapped four cardinals from whom the new pope is likely to be chosen. Helpfully, they’ve left a riddle that allows Langdon to follow their trail. He gets about an hour to solve each clue that would lead him to where each of the cardinals is due to be executed as a prelude to the Big Bang when the anti-matter is unleashed from its container. For the first clue he has to rush across town, find a previously unseen pamphlet by Galileo in the Vatican library, find the code, crack it and then rush off again. Times four before midnight, and accompanied by a lot of hurried explanations for the benefit of the viewer about both obvious and arcane aspects of church history. Thrown into this there’s also a sermon on science and religion and how they’re two sides of the same coin by Ewan McGregor, who plays the part of a helicopter-flying padre who would be Pope. Don’t ask.

Any film that has to spend so much time explaining itself to make any sense is going to be handicapped, not to mention tedious.

The dramatic foundations of Angels & Demons are too weak to carry the burden of cosmic meaning and the requirements of pace and plausibility, and Tom Hanks in this role lacks the drive and charisma to make up for it.


** Yves Vanderhaeghen

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