"Hanks and Howard Take a Leap of Faith"
Three years after Harvard Professor Robert Langdon ruffled the feathers of the Catholic Church by cracking "The Da Vinci Code," everybody's favorite symbologist is back on the big screen to save that very same Church from annihilation in "Angels & Demons."
Well, maybe he wasn't everybody's favorite symbologist. Despite grossing more than $750 million worldwide, critics panned "Da Vinci" for being too long, too talky and too boring — sacrilege, considering that the page-turner by Dan Brown sold more than 81 million copies, making it the biggest selling novel of all time.
It's a good bet that the returning filmmakers — director Ron Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (who co-wrote the screenplay with David Koepp) — heeded that criticism for their second go-round. That's because "Angels & Demons" is a vast improvement over its predecessor, thanks to a faster pace, more action and a better haircut for actor Tom Hanks.
Where Dan Brown's book was a prequel, the film version is a sequel, and it's better served for it. It adds to the tension, since the Vatican already has it in for Robert Langdon after he proved that the Holiest of Holies fathered a child.
But now they need his help. When a secret society called the Illuminati threatens to blow up the Vatican during Conclave — the ancient ritual by which the new Pope is elected — Langdon (Tom Hanks) and scientist Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer) have just a matter of hours to stop that from happening.
That race against time gives "Angels & Demons" a level of suspense that was sorely lacking in "The Da Vinci Code," resulting in a gripping cross between "24" and "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." And where Ron Howard crammed too much of the "Da Vinci" book into the film, he wisely pares the "Angels & Demons" story down to its essentials to keep things moving.
But there are times when it gets stuck in the "Da Vinci" rut, since the action scenes are connected by expositional interludes where Langdon and Vetra explain what's happening while it's actually happening. They also find the answers to their clues just a little too easily, and the ending, while faithful to the book, is still pretty preposterous.
Robert Langdon may have originally been envisioned as a Harrison Ford-type, but Tom Hanks — looking fitter than he has in years — fills his shoes much better this time around. Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer makes for a strong and worthy companion, while Ewan McGregor and Stellan Skarsgard are also effective as the sincere Camerlengo and the stuffy head of the Swiss Guard, respectively.
And just when you thought you saw the last of Robert Langdon, word is that Dan Brown's third book in the series, called "The Last Symbol," will be published this September. No doubt that the film version isn't far behind (especially if "Angels & Demons" makes an unholy amount of money at the box office), which means everybody's favorite symbologist will be back on the big screen in no time.
Verdict: SEE IT!
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