Ron Howard and Tom Hanks combine their talents from the first book in the Robert Langdon series long regarded as one of the best Dan Brown novels about the Vatican and purported enemies of the Catholic Church designed to be diabolical and menacing.
Angels & Demons has been cinematically interpreted as the "sequel" to Howard's rather garrulous, turgid The Da Vinci Code. Howard cleverly produces it in a clock and dagger mode to allow for the kind of popcorn entertainment expected in a "summer blockbuster".
The energy level is raised here as Hanks's snappy symbologist Langdon is sorely needed by the Vatican after the homicidal demise of the Pope. Scripters David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman have devised something about the Illuminati (Enlightened Ones), an ancient inimicable following of Catholicism. There's a kidnapping of four cardinal candidates during a papal conclave with anti-matter part of a devious detonation plan.
A fitter Hanks (who conventionally arrives in Geneva from Cambridge) will be less talked about for his hair this time which doesn't have that muskrat look. Robert's key companion, not love interest, is scientist Vittoria (Ayelet Zurer) who has insight into the ominous means of obliteration. They're out to lend a hand to Irish caretaker Camerlengo (Ewan McGregor, also physically in a better light than of late), a Vatican security head, a belligerent Stellan Skarsgaard, as well as a local officer, well played by Pierfrancesco Favino. Yet, a vicious villain (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) appears to have the edge as they nimbly follow the clues.
Howard assembles it all in pulse-pounding fashion from the sinister and controversial using Hans Zimmer's pulsating score (more dramatic at the conclusion of The Da Vinci Code) to better effect. That doesn't mean that it aims for logic and authenticity while getting the most from a cast even from seemingly subtle expressions that appeals to enjoy going along for a shifty, accelerating ride. Whether underground on the brink of death or on Rome's bustling roadways, an vitriolic entropy pervades the outrageous explanations of narrative.
It is amusing to see Langdon's recitations (which contain some nice one-liners) of working from his expertise and the kind of interest that meets his less arcane, insightful bluster. Armin Mueller-Stahl (The International) endows a cardinal with shadowy guile, while Skarsgaard and, especially Favino offer an edgy charisma. Zurer impresses as the mystery, mired in murder and terrorism, intensifies. While the heartbroken, handsome McGregor seems hard-pressed to sport a consist accent (a Trans-Atlantic appeal is evident).
Protracted and preposterous, Angels & Demons has a passable, unpretentious precision whether branding Earth, Air, Fire or Water, inside churches to locate angel sculptures on its way to a climax out of a cheap horror film. More careful handling of Brown's controversial material provides more thrills and more normalcy and illumination of an institution that won't have many (at least around St. Peter's Square) up in arms.