ANGELS & DEMONS
**** (out of 5)
May 15, 2009
Tom Hanks as ROBERT LANGDON
Ewan McGregor as CAMERLENGO PATRICK MCKENNA
Ayelet Zurer as VITTORIA VETRA
Stellan Skarsgård as COMMANDER RICHTER
Pierfrancesco Favino as INSPECTOR OLIVETTI
Nikolaj Lie Kaas as ASSASSIN
Armin Mueller-Stahl as CARDINAL STRAUSS
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Directed by: Ron Howard
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
While I thought “The Da Vinci Code” was a decent summer movie a few years back, I was not a fan. My wife – and many other folks I know – read the book and ate that film up. Like other popular novels-turned-movies (e.g., “Twilight” and the “Harry Potter” franchise), I saw the movie without my opinion being tainted by the original source material.
I broke with tradition for “Angels & Demons.” Many people have told me that they liked this book better than “The Da Vinci Code,” and even though I read Dan Brown’s lackluster cyberthriller “Digital Fortress” a few years back, I still wanted to give the literary version of Robert Langdon a chance before I saw him on film.
I liked “Angels & Demons” the novel. It wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t infallible. Sure, it got bogged down in continuous exposition. But like most popular music on the radio, it had a beat and you could dance to it.
Even with the pretext of the original novel in my experience, I was still able to thoroughly enjoy Ron Howard’s big screen interpretation of “Angels & Demons.” Like the book, the film follows Professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) as he travels to Vatican City during Conclave to solve a series of clues in order to save the lives of four kidnapped Cardinals and thwart a terrorist plot.
Whether you have read the books or not, “Angels & Demons” is a superior movie to “The Da Vinci Code.” First things first, they got rid of that ridiculous hair-do on Tom Hanks. He no longer looks like Nicolas Cage in his annual terrible September movie. I know this has no bearing on the plot, but having to look at his awful mullet for two and a half hours would have been rough.
Overall, “Angels & Demons” is a fine adaptation of a popular novel which masks its very mainstream appeal with a cultured backdrop. Tom Hanks is more comfortable as Robert Langdon and manages to give him a little more heroism than the somewhat whiney intellectual from the book.
Hanks and his manageable hair is bolstered by a fine cast, including Ewan McGregor as the Camerlengo and Stellan Skarsgård as the head of Vatican security. Providing a foil for Hanks’ take on Langdon is the striking Ayelet Zurer as Vittoria Vetra, another expert brought in by the Vatican to combat terrorism. Zurer might look familiar to American audiences for her small roles in “Munich” and “Vantage Point,” in a more seasoned role of a beautiful but hard-nosed scientist.
What really makes “Angels & Demons” work better is that it’s a simpler story than “The Da Vinci Code.” Rather than conspiracy layered upon conspiracy, “Angels & Demons” presents a relatively straightforward plot – a puzzle for Robert Langdon to solve. Sure, there’s a lot of twists and turns, with many an impromptu history lesson about the Catholic church, symbology and the rumored resurgence of the Illuminati, but at its core, “Angels & Demons” is just one giant cat-and-mouse chase.
Several elements in the book has been changed for the screen adaptation, but all the changes seemed necessary to move the story along at a good clip. A lot of explanation is crammed into the first fifteen minutes, which took dozens of pages in the book, but for the film to be exciting, it needed to hit the ground running.
And boy does it run. While the film clocks in at 140 minutes, it doesn’t seem that long (aside from a slow-down in the middle and a bit of an overdrawn ending). For the bulk of the movie, things move very fast, feeling more like an action flick than an intellectual drama. This is what “Transformers” might have looked like without the giant robots, if Megan Fox had an IQ above 85 and if the Decepticons were electing a new Pope.