May 16, 2009 -- Other than the antimatter bomb, something out of Star Trek, it is all so familiar to fans of The Da Vinci Code: The ridiculously arcane clues, murder victims tortured and mutilated for your pleasure, a high speed tour of famous and obscure buildings in a world famous city, obscure history lessons, ancient conspiracies, and a murderer who leaves a series of clues on purpose that only one man can quickly decipher, symbologist Robert Langdon (again played by Tom Hanks). “Angels & Demons,” like its predecessor (and its imitators, like the National Treasure movies) is a big, silly snipe hunt. The closer you examine the story, the less sense it makes. It is best viewed casually with beer and popcorn. It would be a lot more fun with more jokes and a lot less torture and mutilations (a man is burned alive for God sakes!). The story is too grim for its own good. I guess you are supposed to take Dan Brown seriously, but I can't see how. After all, if we're supposed to take the book or the film seriously, why would they both use an ampersand in the title? Isn't this a symbol for bad grammar? Isn't this a symbol for hucksterism and consumerism, not serious art?
Back to the story, Robert Langdon is contacted by a member of the Vatican police about an urgent matter and immediately flown to Rome. Four Cardinals have been kidnapped from a conclave held to elect a new Pope. The four Cardinals are all prefernti (leading candidates to become the new Pope). Someone claiming to be a member of an ancient group called the Illuminati has contacted the Vatican, threatening to kill the kidnapped Cardinals one by one and then blow up the Vatican with an antimatter bomb stolen from the Large Hadron Collider facility in Europe. The antimatter bomb is pure science fiction. The LHC does produce small amounts of antimatter, but there is no effective way to contain antimatter (in the movie the antimatter is contained in a small bottle powered by an even smaller battery) and an amount large enough to produce the explosion shown in the movie would cost trillions of dollars and take millions of years to produce. That is because making antimatter is an extremely slow and inefficient process according to this authoritative article.
Since Langdon is an expert on the Illuminati, the Vatican brings him in to help with the investigation. Langdon immediately goes to work dredging up clues from the Vatican Library where the writings of one Illuminati (Gallileo) provide a starting point. He is accompanied on his quest by the lovely Vittoria Vetra (played by Ayelet Zurer of “Vantage Point”). She is a scientist who has in her pocket the battery needed to keep the antimatter container from losing its containment field and blowing up the Vatican. Langdon and Vetra go zooming all over Rome looking for ancient clues left by Illuminati, while the kidnapped bishops are murdered in horrifying ways one by one for our entertainment. They are accompanied on their quest by Inspector Olivetti (Pierfrancesco Favino of “Night at the Museum”) of the Vatican Police and are sometimes hindered by Commander Richter (Stellan Skarsgård of “Mama Mia!”) of the Swiss Guard. There is also the Rome Police and other law enforcement agencies involved. It is a jurisdictional nightmare. Hovering over them all are a couple of powerful Vatican figures, Camerlengo Patrick McKenna (Ewan McGregor of the “Star Wars” movies) who is the top Vatican administrator until a new Pope is elected and Cardinal Strauss (Armin Mueller-Stahl of “The International”) who is in charge of voting for the new Pope.
Round and round Langdon goes, shuttling between Rome and the Vatican, hitting the books in the library and visiting old churches while a Bishop is knocked off every hour and the battery in the antimatter container drains down. Once it gets going, the whole plot unfolds in just a few hours. It is a lot like an episode of the TV show “24” only the Jack Bauer character in this story is the bad guy, not the hero. I can see why the Catholic Church doesn't like this movie. It features a character high up in the church who operates a lot like the fictional TV Mafia character Tony Soprano. This film, like “The Da Vinci Code” is filled with historic, religious and scientific nonsense, yet both films are strangely compelling. The film's last act is both thrilling and ludicrous, and there is a neat twist at the end. Dan Brown may not know much about history, religion or science, but the guy can spin quite a yarn. This film, like its predecessor, is entertaining, but also like its predecessor doesn't hold up under critical thought. So, enjoy. It isn't art, but it is entertainment. Don't make the mistake of taking it seriously. It rates a B.
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