Angels and Demons (2009, dir. Ron Howard) is based on the 2000 novel of the same title by Dan Brown, who knows just enough about art history, the city of Rome, and the hierarchy and rituals of the Catholic Church to write an entertaining suspense story about someone who is murdering cardinals, all of whom are candidates to become the next Pope. This novel preceded The Da Vinci Code by three years and features the same protagonist, Robert Langdon (played again by Tom Hanks), an expert on ancient codes and the like. The film follows the novel closely, with the one significant difference that the events in the film Angels and Demons follow, rather than precede, the events in The Da Vinci Code. As in the novel, Langdon is summoned to help find the murder of the cardinals. One clue leads to another. Mostly the clues have to do with ancient paintings and sculptures, many of which involve statues or figures who seem to be pointing conveniently in the direction of the next clue. Langdon has little difficulty deciphering the clues, but he and the crack Vatican security agents tend to arrive just a moment or two after the most recent murder has occurred.
Like the novel, the film highlights the intricate rituals of the Vatican and the Catholic Church, especially concerning the selection of a new pope. The film would have us know that these rituals are obscure and arcane and replete with pointless elements that no one understands but that everyone feels obliged to follow carefully. Like the novel, the film attempts to highlight a struggle between science and faith, with Langdon representing science and the Church representing faith. Like the novel, and like The Da Vinci Code, the film focuses on a secret group that has existed for centuries. In Angels and Demons, this group is the Illuminati, a cabal of scientists who have banded together to resist the efforts of the Church to suppress learning and reason. The film and book make these matters out to be far more straightforward and simplistic and mysterious than they are (if they are at all) in reality. One could imagine an intelligent and interesting film that seriously considers the faith vs. science controversy. This film gives serious lip service to the issue, but little of substance.
The Da Vinci Code featured Audrey Tatou, portraying the beautiful descendant of Jesus and Mary Magdelene. Angels and Demons features Ayelet Zurer, playing a beautiful particle physicist involved in the efforts of the CERN laboratory in Switzerland to study antimatter and to identify the Higgs Boson, the so-called “God Particle.” She is brilliant and somehow becomes Langdon’s sidekick, which means mainly that she uses her intellect to follow him around in high heels—she doesn’t have much to do.
And, oh, yes, someone has stolen antimatter from the CERN laboratory and is threatening to use it to blow up the Vatican.
Most of all, and again like the novel, Angels and Demons is entertaining and unimaginative.