When I first saw advertisements for Angels & Demons, I completely wrote it off. I hated The Da Vinci Code and a sequel held no interest for me. At the urging of a friend, however, I rented it. I’m glad I did. Angels & Demons is nothing like its predecessor, replacing the troublesome theological themes with thought-provoking commentary and the poor film-making with taut pacing and direction.
The pope has died and the College of Cardinals has congregated in the Sistine Chapel to appoint a new Holy Father. When the Preferiti (the top choices for pope) are kidnapped and Vatican City is put under threat of destruction, the Swiss Guard turn to Robert Langdon for help. Langdon is swept into a world of intrigue, lies and secret societies—less than eight hours to rescue the kidnapped priests from death and stop an explosion that will destroy Vatican City. On his quest, Langdon uncovers a conspiracy permeating the highest echelon of Vatican hierarchy and realizes that he can trust no one.
The plot reminded me greatly of (while far surpassing) National Treasure. There are riddles to solve, treasures to hunt, betrayals by close allies and a completely shocking twist ending. Yes, it’s often ridiculous and preposterous but the film is so entertaining that there’s no time to think about how far-fetched it is. The characterization is strong; each player is constantly ambiguous as to motive and allegiance, making the whodunit a continuous guessing game.
The cast as a whole did a fine job. Ewan McGregor delivered an outstanding performance as the Camerlengo. The character was kind and wise and I immediately rooted for him. I also greatly enjoyed Stellan Skarsgaard, commander of the Swiss Guard. His character was vague and suspicious—I was never sure which side he was on. Tom Hanks was unusually average as Langdon; there was nothing at all special about his performance.
Hans Zimmer has no trouble churning out great action themes. The main theme was a reimagining of Chevaliers De Sangreal from the first film. Zimmer fleshed out the cue with rousing violin solos from the talented Joshua Bell. Much of the soundtrack added suspense with high strings, low bass and pounding drums. It’s great both with and apart from the movie.
The cinematography is amazing, highlighting some of the most famous sights in Rome and Vatican City. The setting is perfectly suited to wide sweeping panoramas and the filmmakers took full advantage of the beauty of both locales. The action scenes were also well filmed, exciting while never jumpy or confusing. An enormous explosion towards the end of the film was stunning.
Another great thing about this film is that there is incredibly little bad language and no sexual content. It’s rated for violence which was, at times, graphic and grotesque. Probably most troubling for many about The Da Vinci Code was the one-sided view of religion, targeting especially God, Jesus, Christianity, and Catholicism. While none of these escape the film unscathed, God is not so much attacked as is man’s view of Him. Cardinal Strauss left me with a profound thought: “Religion is flawed, but only because man is flawed. All men. Even this one."
Like all men, Angels & Demons is also flawed, mostly because of average acting, sometimes clunky dialogue and a preposterous plot. But these flaws are insubstantial while watching the film—you’ll be too caught up in finding out what happens next. The mystery kept me guessing, the action kept me on the edge of my seat, and the themes kept my mind engaged. I was surprised to enjoy this one as much as I did. Recommended.