Angels & Demons Review: Tom Hanks and the Holy Fail?

May 12, 2009 by  
Filed under - Home, Film Reviews

ANGELS & DEMONS: On General Release Thursday 14th May

Let’s be honest. If you’d arrived at your local multiplex back in 2006 to find a rolling Da Vinci Code audiotape sat on the screen stage with a dead ferret strapped to the cassette player, you’d have been hard pressed to have noticed the difference.

In fact, you probably would’ve had a more pleasurable experience – at least the ferret would’ve have had more character than Tom Hank’s ludicrous barnet.

But with a built-in, fervered cult audience approaching Scientology levels (81 million books sold and counting), there’d be more chance of Jesus striding his way up to Dan Brown’s front door with supoeana in hand, then it would failing to strike box office gold. So here we are with the inevitable follow-up and, minus the original’s sole redeeming feature – Audrey Tatou – how does it fare?

Surprisingly, Ron Howard seems to have exorcised enough of the predecessor’s Demons to craft something suitably purgatorial – not exactly heavenly and not (annoyingly for my sub-line) another case of Tom Hanks and the Holy Fail.

Everyone’s favourite action-librarian Robert Langdon is back and this time he’s being tapped (as opposed to ‘shut’) up by the Vatican in a race against time. The illusive and somewhat mythical Illuminati (religion shunning intellectuals) have resurfaced and are going about torturing and murdering the prime candidates for the next Pope-ship. To make matters even more confusing, they’ve also apparently been studying at the Rube Goldberg school of complexity.

Why simply use a gun when a stolen vial of anti-matter can blow Priests away with philosophically apoplectic fury?

While The Da Vinci Code drowned in its own self-indulgent waffliness, Angels & Demons keeps things as mercifully to the point as possible. In place of the multi-location, info-dump dialogue of the original, there is a relatively concise plot (scientific doohickey stolen/priests in danger/5 hours to find them), restrained expository back and forths, and an urgent pace that plays out with all the mechanics of a cop/chase movie. Imagine if Jack Bauer had studied at the school of Harvard instead of CTU and you’re halfway there.

The supporting cast boosts goodwill too. The Illumi-naughty prove a substantially diabolical villain by using a hard-ass hit-man who’s geniunely threatening (watch out for some wickedly brilliant Se7en-esque death-traps) and Hanks’ stunning physicist in arms, Ayelet Zurer, performs ample eye-candy duty.

Still, that isn’t to say everything’s perfect. Ewan McGregor’s bi-polar CV can notch down another ‘meh’, with an increasingly bewildering accent and bland sense of stoic duty dragging him down to Paul Bettany-levels of annoyance. The majority of the dialogue is similarly hackneyed and Hanks remains the King of the ‘blatantly bloody obvious’ descriptive statement. And well, everything’s just a bit average – not really controversial enough to make headlines and not really captivating enough to justify itself.

While the franchise hasn’t yet performed a resurrection of divine proportions, it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

Matt Risley

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