Having never seen The Da Vinci Code I went into Angels & Demons with both advantage and disadvantage. I was not able to compare this movie with its predecessor. In some ways that worked to my benefit because I was able to judge the movie on its own merit. On the other hand I cannot say whether Angels & Demons is superior or inferior to The Da Vinci Code.
Having read several of Dan Brown’s books, including Angels & Demons, I can see the challenge in transferring the stories to film. While the books are very entertaining, they involve a lot of thinking. I don’t mean thinking about the plot (though that is usually required too); I mean the characters are thinking through solutions. There is always a lot of deciphering of symbols and researching texts. It doesn’t exactly make for thrilling visuals.
Angels & Demons does have its share of action, but it takes a while to get to it. The story, which is set in Vatican City, revolves around stolen anti-matter, kidnapped cardinals, and the death of a Pope. The first half of the movie moves rather slowly while the story is set up. Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is summoned to the Vatican to help find the kidnapped cardinals and find the missing anti-matter before it can be used to destroy the city. Langdon is joined by the attractive female scientist (Ayelet Zurer) who discovered the anti-matter. The pair must decipher a series of clues that will lead them to the cardinals and explosive.
Langdon is recruited by the Camerlengo (Ewan McGregor), an assistant to the Pope, because of his expertise in the Illuminati. The Illuminati are an ancient secret society who attempted to study science in spite of the church’s objections. Fearing persecution, the Illuminati met in secret locations and left encoded messages for each other in their writings and art work.
One of the main problems with Angels & Demons is its lack of a hero. Langdon is the main character, but we don’t really need to root for him. He is never really in that much danger and he has nothing personal at stake. The character is never compelled to face any personal demons. He doesn’t need to learn anything about himself and he is never required to change. This makes it difficult to get involved with the story. The most interesting character is probably the Camerlengo, and McGregor does a good job of keeping his performance suitably understated.
Overall Angels & Demons is not a bad movie, but it takes a while to get going. I’m not sure how I feel about Hanks as Robert Langdon. He certainly does all that is required for the character, but there is just something missing. He's a bit boring.
Angels & Demons is presented in spectacular MPEG-4 1080p resolution. The image definition is very good, and the crispness of the image enhances the presentation. The film itself is not that colorful, taking place mostly at night and on the streets of Rome and Vatican city (filled with a lot of earthy tones). However, this film looks great, and the muted colors add to the atmosphere of the story. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack is also impressive. The sound was clear and the dialogue, sound effects, and score gave the movie an added resonance. The action sequences were particularly good with all five channels used effectively.
The three-disc Blu-ray set includes the theatrical version, the extended version (about eight minutes of extra footage), and a digital copy of the film. There is also an array of interesting extras on the second disc. There is a 17-minute making of featurette called “Rome Was Not Built In A Day.” It features director Ron Howard, Hanks, and McGregor, along with several other key crew members. “Writing Angels & Demons” focuses on the differences between the book and the screenplay and has comments from book author Dan Brown, and screenwriters David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman. There are several other featurettes on the disc focusing on creating characters, props, the science behind the story, and ambigrams. There is also a very interesting exclusive to this set featurette called “The Path of Illumination.” The featurette is interactive and takes the viewer to various locations from the movie and provides informational tidbits about history, culture, and the filmmaking process.