It’s been three years since the movie adaptation of The Da Vinci Code stormed the multiplexes of the world and earned its stripes as what publicists like to call a ‘global phenomenon’. Sure, some found it lumbering and laughable, but it took more than $750 million worldwide (it’s the 26th most successful film of all time!) and the novels of author Dan Brown have hovered near the top of bestseller lists for much of the last three years.
So it makes financial sense at least for the original production team, led by Ron Howard, to return to Brown’s material. Clearly hoping that the world’s cinema audiences will be back for more as they endeavour to unravel the main conundrum raised by the first film – does it all make sense if you haven’t read the book?
This time we’re in Rome. The pope has died suddenly and the ancient ritual of Conclave is under way, the process by which a new Holy Father is elected. The favoured candidates, the Preferiti, are kidnapped by a secret society called the Illuminati who threaten to kill one Cardinal each hour before igniting a bomb in the Vatican.
Who could possibly avert such a crisis? Step forward Robert Langdon, Harvard symbologist extraordinaire, who is whisked directly to Rome and into a whirlwind of intrigue that catapults him between famous landmarks across the city. He is joined by Vittoria Vetra, played by gorgeous Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer, a Eurobabe-cum-nuclear scientist whose work may hold the answer to one of science and religion’s greatest puzzles (drumroll here) – “the moment of Creation itself!”.
Langdon is again played by Tom Hanks, looking surprisingly fresh and buff in an early swimming scene, but who then proceeds to stumble about on autopilot, pointing at statues and delivering a stream of sanctimonious exposition. This is the type of movie where people don’t have real conversations; they shout plot detail at each other and decipher clues as they run up stairs and down passageways.
As in The Da Vinci Code, we are in the realm where theology is notionally pitted against science. But everything that is potentially interesting about this conflict is quickly sidelined as the audience is plunged into the only story Dan Brown seems able to tell – a race against time peppered with Famous Five-style clues, all wrapped up in a Scooby Doo quality whodunit.
Many important questions are left unanswered. How does Vetra’s hair stay so clean? Would a scientist really be so squeamish when faced with a human eyeball? And when will Ewan McGregor learn that he should only be in musicals? The production design is admittedly impressive, especially the replicas of well-known Roman landmarks, built nearly to scale in Los Angeles. And Hans Zimmer provides a fittingly tense and pounding score, maxing out on choral effects for the big scenes.
Ron Howard works really hard to keep us engaged in his increasingly improbable story. Cars screech and race through busy streets; cameras swoop over the wings of carved angels to reveal enormous crowd scenes. But there’s only so much of this we can take and one soon hungers for the insight and economy of Howard’s last film, the much smaller but infinitely more gripping Frost/Nixon.
Ultimately, this is a loud, long, confused muddle of a movie which swaps sense for a sense of excitement, but that probably won’t stop it from finding a large audience desperate for a Dan Brown fix until his new novel release in September 2009.
Maybe Angels and Demons will be more thrilling and just make more sense to someone who has read the original novel. I suspect it’s definitely a case of preaching to the converted.
Reviewed By: The All Knowing I