When Ron Howard released his adaptation of Dan Brown's controversial book The Da Vinci Code a few years ago, the reaction from both critics and fans was "meh." It was a flat, uninteresting film that featured Tom Hanks' worst hairdo in years. Flitting from boring mystery to boring mystery, its self-indulgent, almost 150-minute run time killed any moments that were fun.
However, in adapting Brown's prequel to The Da Vinci Code (they switch the timelines so that this one takes place after the events of the first film), Howard has managed to make a far more entertaining and fun movie that, even if the run time is still far too long, keeps the pace extremely high and subsequently the film rarely gets boring. The Da Vinci Code took itself very seriously, which is part of the reason it fell flat on its face, but Angels & Demons is the counter to that. There are definitely moments where it does indulge in being overly preachy and in-your-face with some of its messages, but for the most part this is a big, silly conspiracy blockbuster that really entertains.
Taking place after the events of The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons catches up with symbologist Robert Langdon who is called in to help the Vatican after a dangerous amount of anti-matter is stolen and is being used as a threat by the mysterious Illuminati to destroy the Vatican, taking half of Rome with it. Using his knowledge of symbols and history, Professor Langdon must work against the clock to solve the mystery of where the anti-matter bomb is being kept before it's too late.
There will undoubtedly be another controversy over Angels & Demons as there was with The Da Vinci Code, most likely over the scenes of violence relating to the Catholic church, even if they aren't the ones being portrayed committing that violence. But as any movie should be, Angels & Demons should be treated as that — just a movie — and not be taken so seriously. It may have been the case with Da Vinci that the movie took everything too seriously, but here it's another story. Even if it's shrouded in a confrontation with religion and science (in one of its moments of being overly preachy, one character points out that the two shouldn't be enemies), at its core it's a silly movie… and it knows it.
Getting rid of his horrible haircut from Da Vinci (itself a reason to rest easy), Hanks does what is needed here: Look and sound intelligent while running around the city trying to solve the mysteries at hand. Those mysteries are a lot more interesting than they were in Da Vinci, with them being far more understandable and comprehensible for the audience watching as opposed to 90% of us not having a clue what's going on. The pace is kept at just about as high a level as you're likely to see all year, which results in even the silliest of moments feeling exciting.
Of course it's not a perfect movie — far from it. The silly and fun factor only goes so far, as if you look past that there are things to get irritated about. For one, there are many moments that are so trite and obvious as to cause eye-rolling. We see Langdon being able to swim really well, so of course a scene where that skill is going to come in handy will appear later on. Someone mentions them being able to fly a helicopter, so can you guess what rears its head later in the movie? There's even a token bi-lingual character at Langdon's side… you know, just in case something needs translating.
The whole diabolical plan to destroy the Vatican and all that jazz sets everything up for an exciting mystery-chase movie, but it's a bit disappointing what becomes of it by the end. There are the inevitable twists and turns that come along the way (some well done and genuinely surprising, others you can see coming a mile off), but the reveal as to who's behind the whole thing (at least, who's an actual member of the Illuminati… because, they're sneaky and they infiltrate organizations) is a tad confusing and mystifying. The film doesn't completely pull the curtain back, which leads to frustration on the viewer's part. The fact that the thing that's forcibly threatening the Vatican (and, ultimately, Catholicism itself) is something of pure science is interesting in and of itself. But that aspect isn't made the absolute most of and it should have been.
Kudos must go to director Howard, along with screenwriters David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman, for taking a step back from the source material and realizing that it would work so much better if it was treated as a silly, dumb blockbuster rather than a straight and serious film. The latter is what ultimately held The Da Vinci Code back, and luckily Howard has learned his lesson. The choice to switch this to take place after Da Vinci instead of before (as the books were) was a wise decision, simply because for the excitement and interest in the "end of the world" story to be maintained throughout, we have to believe the worst could happen. With faults firmly in tow, Angels & Demons is an entertaining and attention-grabbing movie that doesn't take itself too seriously. If only Howard had realized that when he had Da Vinci in mind.