Three years ago, Sony Pictures proved to the world that you can make three quarters of a billion dollars off of a boring-ass thriller. The Da Vinci Code went on to be the 20th highest grossing movie of all time, which we all knew meant a sequel was damn-near-inevitable. But while the Da Vinci Code failed to be exciting or lucid in its story telling, this writer had some hope that the original’s experienced team of Tom Hanks and Ron Howard would be able to get it right the second time around.
While my hopes might not have been totally realized, Angels & Demons at least proves that there was no direction for this franchise to go but up.
Three years after we watched Symbology-PhD.-turned-action-hero Robert Langdon (Hanks) discover the secrets of the historically ambiguous Knights of Templar, he’s back and trying to hunt down members of the Illuminati with plots to make the Vatican go BOOM, via anti-matter somehow generated from the Large Hadron Collider.
Luckily for us, though, the Illuminati were fucking dumb enough to go out of their way to leave clues that will help Langdon and his standard attractive female co-lead in trying to find the perpitrator. There are a myriad of other clichÃ©s littered throughout the picture, with plenty of tricks and turns that are downright nonsensical – but it’s all forgivable if the thriller actually thrills.
Whereas the franchise’s first picture totally failed to ever build up any excitement or pacing, Angels & Demons is decently stimulating. Howard takes advantage of the story’s ticking clock that’s counting down a midnight explosion promising to take out all of the Vatican.
But mainly, Howard’s second attempt at the Robert Langdon series of novels from Dan Brown works because it’s not half as convoluted as the Da Vinci Code – the whole time throughout, there’s one clear objective the characters are reaching for, and one method of achieving it. Last time, it was hard to even figure out what the characters were doing at any given point in the film; now it’s just clear.
It’s also nice to see that Hanks, who easily turned in one of his worst turns ever in the Da Vinci Code, has actually appeared to put some trace amount of effort into Angels & Demons. As unaffecting as he was three years ago, he gets the job done here and carries the thriller from start to finish, even if it’s still a sub-par performance for the much-beloved actor.
But maybe the strongest aspect to the film is the skillful handling and examination of the ever-raging debate between science and religion. It’s the primary topic of the film, and the script does a good job of presenting several different vantages in the discussion without ever becoming too preachy.
It all builds to a masterfully handled climax that satisfies as a big-budget action sequence and a seamless blend of the arguments elements expressed almost entirely through images. Visual effects-wise, it’s a huge and awesome scene; but thematically it’s subtle enough that you don’t feel like you have an opinion being shoved down your throat.
It was all adding up to be a fun, if unimportant, conspiracy thriller with a statement, and then the end hit. After a terrific run of racing the clock and coherently commenting on science and religion, the story decides it has to throw in a totally uncalled for twist. Not only is it a frustrating and unnecessary turn of the story, it knocks the film from “Good” to “Kind of Stupid.”
It’s especially bothersome knowing that the film could have ended right on a great note after said masterfully handled climax, without leaving any questions. It would have been a complete film.
As is, the film leaves a bad aftertaste.