Anti-Matter is so Illuminating
I wasn't a fan of "The Da Vinci Code", I found it contrived, confused and basically disappointing. So I wasn't expecting to be that impressed with its sequel "Angels & Demons". Shockingly, I actually found "Angels & Demons" to be a better movie, simpler, easier to follow and not so bogged down in trying to be too clever although still quite preposterous. It's still not great, in fact it really is only average but at least it's entertaining.
Despite having upset the church with his previous exploits, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks - Charlie Wilson's War) is called upon to help them out on a matter of urgency. It seems that with The Pope passing away and the Vatican preparing to select a new leader an ancient secret brotherhood, The Illuminati, have returned and are planning to wipe out Vatican City in vengeance for the way their ancestors were treated. As such the four preferitti, those who are most likely to become the next Pope, have been kidnapped and one will be killed every hour till midnight when Vatican City will be destroyed. With time running out, Robert Langdon, along with physicist Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer - Vantage Point) must unravel the clues whilst rushing around Rome in hope they can stop The Illuminati from completing their plans.
Now some people may dislike this, but "Angels & Demons" has a much simpler storyline with a historical group, The Illuminati, trying to bring revenge on the Roman Catholic order by blowing up Vatican City. That is very much the basis of it, and with The Illuminati being a historical secret brotherhood who use symbols allows for Robert Langdon to be drawn back into things. Of course it's not plain sailing, we have the issue over the Pope's death and choosing a successor which also leads to a certain amount of finger pointing as it appears The Illuminati have infiltrated the sanctity of the Pope's home. And all of this is tied in with "anti-matter" being stolen from the Hadron Collider. Which when broken down makes "Angels & Demons" sound as contrived as ever but it doesn't feel it.
Being simpler actually changes the way "Angels & Demons" comes across and is no longer bogged down in trying to be clever with lots of historical myths and legends. In doing so it strangely feels more like "National Treasure" with Robert Langdon being an adventurer rushing around, solving clues and puzzles which leads to the next one. But it's not as cheesy as "National treasure" there is a real sense of drama and tension to it, especially as you have the clock ticking factor with Vatican City under threat of being wiped out in revenge. As such it also has a thrilling element as you soon become aware as their is a traitor on the inside and the guessing games begin as you try and work out who of the many possible people it could be.
But whilst simpler and not overly complicated by trying too be clever "Angels & Demons" still has that illuminating historical aspect as certain historical references and familiar names such as Galileo are tied into the action as Langdon goes puzzle busting.
What in a way spoils "Angels & Demons" is the whole "Anti-Matter" element as it does make it a little too contrived in places. The whole series of scenes at the Hadron Collider end up a distraction and with the "Anti-Matter" supposedly going to be the device which wipes out the Vatican makes it all a little absurd. And it gets seriously absurd as the big climax comes as not only does it twist and turn in trying to keep us on the edge of our seats but also ends up being over the top and cheesy.
As for the acting well Tom Hanks does his usual solid job and in doing so makes Robert Langdon quite likeable, even more so this time as the character has slightly changed from "The Da Vinci Code" and is a little more normal. Funnily with "Angels & Demons" playing more like "National Treasure" I actually reckon Tom Hanks would have been brilliantly cast in the role which Nicolas Cage has made his own.
Aside from Tom Hanks there are only a few recognizable faces such as Ewan McGregor as Camerlengo Patrick McKenna and Stellan Skarsgård as Commander Richter both of which are solid but not overly memorable. Although saying that, the ending makes McGregor's character go from being reasonable to ridiculous in the space of minutes.
What this all boils down to is that "Angels & Demons" is actually a sequel which is better than the original. It's still not much better than average, but by simplifying things it's far easier to watch and get into allowing the drama to almost get us gripped. But it is still a little contrived, especially towards the end which means the only memorable moment is when it loses grip and spirals off into being almost cheesy.