“Angels & Demons”, Dan Brown’s flashy sequel to “The Da Vinci Code,” is directed at a breakneck speed by director Ron Howard for good reason – if you actually stopped to think about what you’re were looking at you’d probably leave the cinema long before the closing credits.
Let’s face it, exploding cars and gothic murder scenes appeal to many cinema goers, and there’s plenty of them here, but they can’t stop you from realizing within the first 10 minutes of the film that the plot is completely preposterous.
In Brown’s overheated conspiracy thriller, a secret 300-year-old fraternity of anti-clerical radicals called The Illuminati may (or may not) be plotting to kill the four cardinals favored to succeed the Pope. One by one these unfortunate holy men turn up dead in increasingly theatrical settings around Rome.
Enter Robert Langdon, the Harvard-based symbologist (played by a tight lipped Tom Hanks) who’s reluctantly called in by the Vatican to interpret the fiendish note - the Illuminati have sent them as a high-handed "catch me if you can" taunt.
Langdon decodes symbols like some gifted people decode MTA bus timetables. He’s a quick thinker, too, but not quite quick enough to prevent the first three cardinals from going to their heavenly rewards.
Director Howard fills almost every frame of his film with suspense, soaring camera work and ominous music, and when those start to flag, he’s not above indulging in a bit of gratuitous violence. The important thing, apparently, is to prevent the audience from thinking about what they’re looking at. Fair enough.
For all of its discussions about art, history, faith and intolerance, in the end you’re left with a sort of high-budget episode of "Scooby Doo." When the real villain is finally unmasked you almost wish he would say “And I would have gotten away with it too if it hadn't’t been for you pesky symboligists!” It wouldn’t alter the tone of the film, and it would certainly be more honest about its pulpy ambitions.
Ewan McGregor turns up in an underwritten role as an Irish priest, sporting a Belfast accent that’s so distractingly bad it’ll prevent most Irish viewers from noticing anything else.
Another distraction is Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer, who may well be the most gorgeous woman alive. Zurer plays Vittoria Vetra, an Italian scientist, and brings some emotional depth to a film badly in need of it.
But in the end, nothing can make Brown’s ridiculous storyline any better than it is.
The scheming Illuminati are determined to blow up the Vatican and half of Rome because 300 years earlier the church persecuted scientists. That’s a heck of a long time to hold a grudge and plot your revenge.
Brown’s plot also asks us to accept that the Catholic Church is always implacably opposed to all the advances of science. This is simply not true. In fact, here in America, it’s evangelical movement who dispute the big bang theory and evolution.
But to argue with this film based on its own ideas is to be drawn into a pointless debate. God may or may not exist, but He’s unlikely to lose sleep over “Angels & Demons.”