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Rated 3.03 stars
by 386 people

ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Race around the Vatican
by Jeffrey Chen

Ron Howard's Angels & Demons reminds me of David Fincher's The Game. The point of that movie involved presenting viewers with a pure example of the thriller genre -- to show that the audience won't really care about overall story plausibility if the string of suspense set-ups is done well. So while watching Angels & Demons, I  couldn't help thinking about the bad guy's scheme being way too elaborate as well as requiring too many factors to align just right. His plot was overly complicated, but we're not supposed to care, right? The fun is in the running around, solving a mystery one piece at a time. Angels & Demons gets this point across.

Not suprisingly, then, the movie comes across as a less contemplative, more motion-driven version of its predecessor, The Da Vinci Code. Both films are adapted from popular Dan Brown novels and feature symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) following a trail of puzzles and clues that will lead to the solving of a crime/mystery connected in some way to the Christian church. Langdon partners up with a smart female, butts heads with the chief law officer of the jurisdiction he's in, dodges murderous attempts by some kind of religiously overzealous assassin who may have been hired by an ancient underground secret society, all the while imparting historical knowledge about centuries-old forces this all may be a part of.

But while The Da Vinci Code was more ponderous, with more time spent on discussing its central controversy, Angels & Demons lets its background stories come up as our heroes dash about the Vatican in a race against the clock to first save four cardinals -- the Preferiti, the most likely potential successors to the recently deceased pope -- and then, in the end, to defuse a bomb. Although mostly effective in generating suspense with a few pretty good set pieces (the one where some characters are trapped in a room running out of air comes to mind), there is a good deal of arriving at locations and looking around for clues in statues and artwork. Such scenes wrack nerves really well in the pages of a book, but they need extra lift when presented on film. Thus, the camera swirls about, the editing speeds up, and Hans Zimmer's chorus-driven score amps up to a frenzy. Something tells me that after Howard got the first movie under his belt, he watched Michael Bay movies to get a few more action tips.

Of course, the bomb in question is no ordinary bomb -- it happens to be the pinnacle of scientific research, a container holding a significant amount of antimatter in suspension. Whoever is behind the evil plot claims to be striking in the name of the Illuminati, an ancient group of scientific thinkers who were persecuted by the church. The bomb would wipe out all of the Vatican, and the movie never misses a chance to remind us that this could be the ultimate revenge of science on religion. Thankfully, the film has its priorities straight -- as a mainstream pop blockbuster, it's more about following the next clue that leads to the next church, and nominal bones are thrown to the audience regarding religion vs. science, and how perhaps it would be better if they all just got along, with both disciplines marching the same path towards progress.

So hand-wringing is kept at a minimum, the mystery seems involving during the runtime, and in the end the plot doesn't really hold up. Angels & Demons comes in, does its job, and gets out. It makes no mistake about being pop fun. But regarding its surface concern of religion's relation to science, it does provide one noteworthy scene that involves the sky and a spectacular, shall we say, atmospheric display. It's a vision created by man but at the same time heavenly to behold, and the image itself speaks more profoundly on the subject than anyone's explanation of ancient wars between churches and scientists. Of all the semi-horrific shots in the movie set up to elicit an "Oh my God" from its viewers, this one earns it best, and its placement is just right.

(Released by Columbia Pictures and rated "PG-13" for sequences of violence, disturbing images and thematic material.)

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