At first glance it would appear that Angels & Demons has corrected the shortcomings of its predecessor (though in novel form it was a prequel), but pacing problems become abundantly clear during its conclusion – one that is overly predictable and quite possibly more outlandish than the twist in Robert Langdon’s previous adventure. But at the heart of Ron Howard’s latest adaptation is a familiar hunt for clues to unravel a dark mystery, this time accompanied by a greater sense of suspense thanks to the ticking time-bomb premise and a capable cast’s sincere urgency (at least until the last twenty minutes of the movie).
Despite his notorious relationship with the Church, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is once again called upon to decipher the clues to a catastrophic conspiracy. The Pope has died, and before conclave can begin to determine his successor, the four preferitti (primary hopefuls for the papacy) are kidnapped. An ominous threat of their hourly demise, along with the complete annihilation of Vatican City, is issued as an elaborate revenge scheme for a 17th century persecuted group known as the Illuminati. With their meager time limit steadily counting down, Langdon, accompanied by beautiful physicist Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer), must travel throughout Rome to unravel the carefully hidden signs that will lead them to a terrifying adversary, a harrowing discovery, and the shocking truth.
Angels & Demons uses the same murder-mystery technique of following clues, uncovering hidden symbols and unmasking religious corruption as The Da Vinci Code did to build an intriguing story brimming with suspense, thrills and humor. Once again, the biggest misstep is the conclusion, this time suffering from even worse pacing and outrageous implausibility instead of simply a generally disagreeable one. Tom Hanks is noticeably more comfortable in his role as the adventuresome symbologist, even though this film takes place before The Da Vinci Code – interestingly there is no mention or reference to that fact in the movie.
The fascinating, scientific, truth-seeking Illuminati take the place of Opus Dei, with the Vatican still serving as the opponent. Even with unexplained ancient traditions, bizarre rituals for the Vicar of Christ, jurisdiction conflicts (between the Vatican Police and the Swiss Guard) and enemy infiltration standing in the way of reasoning, the most unbelievable aspects come from antimatter experiments and the unreal technology abused to destroy the church. This creates the need for a lot of contrivances orchestrated to set up suspense, anticipation and deception. Too bad the plot twists are easily predicted well before the painfully lengthy ending in which everything the audience guessed at is admitted to. With a rip of the memorable Demolition Man eye-opening escape sequence by Wesley Snipes, historical legends familiarized by having seen The Fifth Element, and textbook explanations for the uneducated (“You guys don’t even read your own history, do you?”), the only thing Angels & Demons reinforces is that Langdon should carry a gun. Or maybe not.
– The Massie Twins