Dan Brown gets a bad rap, but maybe he just should have been born 60 years earlier. If his writing was going to be turned into cinema, it really should have been 1930s serials.
After all, both The Da Vinci Code and its published prequel/filmed sequel Angels & Demons abandon all character development in favor of pure plot mechanics; every chapter is anchored to a cliffhanger more preposterous than the last. If someone simply treated them as the narrative junk food they are, his stories might be tremendous fun. But the inclusion of religious iconography and heterodox “history” has made people take them far too seriously. If you thought Ron Howard’s adaptation of The Da Vinci Code managed to make ecclesiastical conspiracy boring, just wait for Angels & Demons.
Tom Hanks—sans greasy Da Vinci mullet, but still bereft of personality—is back as Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, summoned by Vatican officials to help deal with a potential public-relations crisis. In the wake of the death of the Pope, the four primary candidates to replace him have been kidnapped. Evidence suggests the involvement of the Illuminati— the ancient society whose pro-science views antagonized the medieval Catholic Church. And if Langdon can’t follow the clues to the lair of the Illuminati, the Vatican itself could be destroyed by a cylinder of stolen anti-matter.
It’s somewhat fitting that, in Angels & Demons, the greatest threat comes from something representing the complete absence of substance. As was true in Da Vinci, Howard simply allows Langdon’s puzzle-solving to carry us from one place to the next, like some life-or-death scavenger hunt. The number of ticking doomsday clocks in this thing is absurd, yet it’s treated with a ritualistic somberness that makes a Latin Mass seem like prom night.
There’s a fleeting moment, near the end, when Howard hilariously tracks along the Pope-announcing Vatican chimney like it was the fuse of a bomb. Give me that kind of silliness, rather than watching the smudgy smoke rising from this dud.
ANGELS & DEMONS
Tom Hanks, Ayelet Zurer, Ewan McGregor