Having learned from his mistakes with “The Da Vinci Code,” director Ron Howard has adapted another Dan Brown best-seller into a compelling, fast-paced thriller, starring Tom Hanks as Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon.
As the College of Cardinals begins its ritual conclave in the Sistine Chapel after the death of a beloved Pope, Langdon is recruited by a Vatican envoy to fly from Cambridge to Rome. Four of the favored papal candidates have been kidnapped the fanatical henchman (Danish actor Nakolaj Lie Kaas) of a secret cult, known as the Illuminati, and one will be killed each hour that night. In addition, the Illuminati have stolen a canister of deadly antimatter (a powerful energy source) from CERN (the world’s largest particle physics laboratory) near Geneva and are threatening to blow up Vatican City at midnight, so Italian scientist Vittoria Vetra (Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer) has also been summoned.
With ticking time-bomb urgency, coolly intrepid Langdon (who is writing a book on the Illuminati) and ever-resourceful Vetra must unravel a 400 year-old mystery that’s tied to the ancient symbols of Earth, Air, Fire and Water, find the Cardinals, locate the bomb and save the Holy See from demolition. As they race through churches, searching crypts and catacombs for clues, they’re both helped and hindered by Vatican officials, including the imperious Commander of the Swiss Guard (Stellan Skarsgard), Inspector Olivetti of the Gendarmarie (Italian actor Pierfrancesco Favino), the authoritative Cardinal in charge of the conclave (Armin Mueller-Stahl) and the late Pontiff’s heartbroken confidante, the Camerlengo (Ewan McGregor).
While Howard’s crew filmed at famous sites like the Piazza del Popolo, Piazza Navona, Castle Sant’Angelo, they were denied Vatican access, so they’ve replicated St. Peter’s Square and the Sistine Chapel – spectacularly. But because screenwriters Akiva Goldsman and David Koepp had to condense and simplify Dan Brown’s arcane, occult explanatory material, there’s still much that’s not only implausible but confusing. Yet on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Angels & Demons” is an enigmatic, enthralling 8 – with enough unexpected twists to keep you on the edge-of-your-seat.