Review by Paul Stathakis | May 15, 2009

Leave it to Langdon

Robert Langdon is no stranger when it comes to mysteries involving the Catholic Church, codes, and symbols. Here we find the Harvard symbologist on a daring mission in Vatican City. He has but a few hours to discover the location of a ticking bomb. The bomb, we’re told, is made from a substance called “anti-matter.” What is anti-matter exactly? Vittoria explains that a tiny substance can eliminate Vatican City and half of Rome. Langdon races through the streets of Vatican City, in buildings, through secret passageways, and even in the Vatican archives. He is something of a wonder. He spots symbols on the ground, in books, in statues, and quickly makes enough connections to bring him the next clue and ultimately closer to the truth. Tom Hanks recently joked that if he were to compete with James Bonds, Indiana Jones or Sherlock Holmes, he would outsmart them. I believe him.

”Angels and Demons” is based on another of Dan Brown’s successful novels. We know about the mediatic storm surrounding the film. Ron Howard was banned from Vatican City and not allowed to film in and around the Vatican. But yet, watching the film, no one will be able to spot a reconstructed set. The set decoration is outstanding and it serves as the backdrop of a political/religious mystery.

Ewan McGregor stars as Camerlengo Patrick McKenna, a priest who is concerned not only about the safety of the Vatican’s Cardinals but of the millions united in St. Peter’s Square for the unveiling of the new Pope. With the Conclave open, four candidates have been considered. But after each are mysteriously murdered, Langdon sees similarities between the murders which could spell out the return of the Illuminati. Langdon is joined by Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer). Early on in the film, we learn that Vetra was part of a scientific experiment related to the creation of anti-matter. But when a physicist  in the laboratory is murdered and a canister of anti-matter is missing, she and Langdon embark on a journey to discover who could be behind the plot to destroy Vatican City. They race against time (and we get the usual time reminders throughout) to prevent catastrophe.

The film reunites actor Tom Hanks and director Ron Howard who proved with “The Da Vinci Code” that they could make good thrillers. “Angels and Demons” is not any different. In fact, unlike “Da Vinci”, “Angels and Demons” cuts to the chase and incorporates more action and thrills. Consider a scene where Langdon is trapped with a guard in one of the Vatican’s archival facilities. The power is cut and an electric display on the wall reveals that the oxygen level is running lower by the second. Without electricity, the men cannot escape through the electric doors. How does Langdon get himself out of this one?

The ads for the film are not as revealing as I had imagined they would be. The film, like “Da Vinci”, has many twists and turns and the real mystery is only revealed in the last twenty or so minutes. However implausible the process of the investigation is, the findings and connections, Langdon makes for a strong American hero. He is intelligent. We know that his knowledge goes beyond symbols and codes. He references Chaucer and Shakespeare and knows his religion well although he questions faith.

The film condenses a great deal of material into a two-hour running time. Consequently, parts of  Brown’s novel were left out of the script. I suspect anyone who’s read the novel and enjoyed it will want to go back to it to relive a certain excitement that the film fails to evoke. I won’t deny that there is suspense and I won’t deny that the story is gripping. There is enough smart dialogue and suspense to satisfy any intellect or anyone who is interested in secret societies (in this case the Illuminati). But the book paints its own magical scenery and somehow Langdon always seems more involved in the novel than he does on screen. Still, there’s no doubt in my mind that the best actor for the part is Tom Hanks. I think Brown would agree that he has the qualities of Langdon. He fits Brown’s description from “The Da Vinci Code” (“Harrison Ford in Harris tweed”)  To top it off, Hanks suits the image of the intellect and he’s a likable protagonist. He’s smart, funny, and persistent. If there’s a problem somewhere in the world that no one has an answer for, I expect Langdon to show up and solve it.

 

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