In the first scene that Tom Hanks appears onscreen as Robert Langdon, he’s wearing a Speedo-like bathing suit. It’s not the only inappropriate moment in Angels & Demons, which desecrates the Vatican with murder, mayhem and even a little sexual tension. Even if it’s just a movie and it’s a fake Vatican, it all seems a little disrespectful. [Full disclosure: the person writing this review grew up in a secular household so she’s not like a religious freak or anything. She just thinks that a movie about Popes being murdered in really gruesome ways is kind of icky.]
That’s not the only problem with Angels & Demons — the plot is preposterous. Langdon is called back to the Vatican after an ancient underground brotherhood called the Illuminati, who favor science over religion, steals a bomb made by a hot Italian scientist named Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer) from the European Council for Nuclear Research in Switzerland. After the Pope dies under mysterious circumstances, the Illuminati, who hate the Catholic Church for persecuting them hundreds of years ago, kidnap four candidates for Popehood during Conclave, then threaten to kill each one every hour and set off the bomb, which will destroy Vatican City.
The Illuminati don’t worship God, they pray to the four elements of nature — earth, air, fire, and water. So religious symbols expert Langdon is brought in to decipher clues about the elements and find the kidnapped Pope candidates before it’s too late! But there are all of these people in the Vatican making it hard for Langdon to do his job, including the dead Pope’s secretary (a totally miscast Ewan McGregor), a Cardinal (Armin Mueller-Stahl) and the head of the Swiss Guard (Stellan Skarsgard), who guard the Pope. Obviously, one of them is responsible for this, but who? That’s the big mystery.
Confused? Yeah, you’re not alone. Without production notes, this reviewer would have been totally lost. While thankfully Angels & Demons is much faster-paced then The Da Vinci Code, it’s so action packed, you have to really concentrate to figure out what’s going on. It feels like Sunday School on speed.
Another problem is that there are too many ridiculous moments in this movie. Langdon has about five hours to decipher the codes and does it all a little too flawlessly. His sexy sidekick, Vetra, cannot only make bombs, she conveniently speaks Latin and is an expert on the history of religion. McGregor’s character, the Camerlengo, is the Pope’s right-hand man, but knows how to fly a helicopter and sky dive. Don’t think so.
Angels & Demons also can’t figure out if it hates the Catholic Church or loves it. There are digs about cover-ups and commercialism. It hammers home, about a billion times, that science and religion can co-exist peacefully. And yet there is a strong message about holding onto tradition. It’s all over the place.
The best thing about Angels & Demons is the location, Rome, and the scenes shot in historic cathedrals, catacombs and crypts. Other than that, you’ll find yourself praying for some enlightenment about what the heck is happening.