Church Wars Episode II: A New Pope
Despite the fact that Ron Howard’s 2006 adaptation of Dan Brown’s blockbusting bestseller The DaVinci Code was accompanied by a wave of critical apathy, the film still did well enough at the box office (thanks in no small part to the loyalty of the book’s millions of fans) to make another movie a certainty. Angels and Demons is that movie and, unsurprisingly, it treads much the same path as its predecessor; it’s very long, very melodramatic and very middle-of-the-road.
Tom Hanks returns as Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, called in by the Catholic Church to help solve a murderous mystery that threatens their very future. Following the death of the Pope, a conclave is called to elect his successor – a task made difficult by the fact that four high-ranking cardinals have been kidnapped by the secret brotherhood The Illuminati. Helped by Camerlengo Patrick McKenna (Ewan McGregor) and seemingly hindered by the sarcastic Commander Richter (Stellan Skarsgard), Robert and his sidekick, scientist Vittoria (Ayelet Zurer) follow ancient clues around the most sacred landmarks of Rome. But the cardinals start turning up dead and the race is on to track down the killer – as well as recover a secret weapon that could wipe out the whole of Vatican City…
What makes Dan Brown’s novels such pulpy page-turners is, ironically, what holds them back as movies – they are shlocky, simplistic tosh from beginning to end. The age-old debate of science vs religion runs through the heart of this narrative, but any interesting philosophies are continually drowned out by earnest monologues, pantomime action sequences – including a jaw-dropping moment involving Ewan McGregor, a helicopter, an explosive device and a wobbly Irish accent – and endless shots of Hanks running from church to statue and back again.
And Ron Howard controls it all with the same plodding pace he employed for DaVinci; there’s no real sense of urgency or genuine excitement, even with dead cardinals and sexy scientists turning up all over the place. That’s not entirely his fault, however, as Brown’s original story is held together by dot-to-dot plotting which would slow down the most frenetic of film-maker.
But it’s not entirely without entertainment; the thriller elements of the story are pushed to the fore and, unlike DaVinci, there are minimal amounts of verbal exposition to sit through. And it is fun to see Hanks zipping through Rome, spouting historical accuracies and solving ancient conundrums with one hand, and smashing windows and saving priests with the other. Whatever the role, he is a likeable actor and undoubtedly helps to carry the film.
While not as turgid as its predecessor, Angels and Demons is further proof that Dan Brown’s talents lay in producing by-the-numbers breezy beach reads rather than cinematic masterpieces – and, hopefully, his flights of fancy will now remain firmly between the covers.
Stars Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Stellan Skarsgard, Ayelet Zurer
Director Ron Howard
Screenplay David Koepp & Akiva Goldsman, from the novel by Dan Brown
Distributor Sony Pictures
Running Time 2hrs 18mins
Opening Date May 14th