Angels & Demons
It may have been boring and heretical, but the film version of The Da Vinci Code was also one of the biggest international hits of all time when it came out three years ago—bigger than The Passion of The Christ, bigger than the Narnia movies, bigger even than at least one of the Star Wars movies. So it was pretty much inevitable that Tom Hanks and director Ron Howard would reunite for an adaptation of the other Dan Brown novel that features Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon. (A third novel is now due to come out later this year.)
It was also pretty much inevitable that reporters looking for a story—and the filmmakers, looking for publicity—would try to stir up some controversy around the sequel, which is called Angels & Demons. But for most people, the new movie could be fairly easy to ignore, and not just because there have been fewer calls for boycotts and the like this time.
For one thing, the new story just doesn't push the same kind of buttons that the old one did. The Da Vinci Code made bogus claims about Jesus himself, and thus had something to offend Christians of every denominational stripe. But Angels & Demons focuses entirely on the relationship between modern science and Roman Catholicism—and thus many people, especially non-Catholics, may be inclined to just yawn and shrug the movie off.
Those who do see the film could very well find their eyes rolling within the first few minutes. As the story begins, the Pope has just died, and cardinals from around the world have come to the Vatican to elect his successor—and a voice-over, possibly that of a reporter, gravely informs us that Catholics around the world "now find their church at a crossroads, their ancient traditions threatened by a modern world." Really? The church has never come to this "crossroads" before? And how does the death of one man expose the church to this "threat"? Is not the conclave that brings the cardinals together a sign that the church's "ancient traditions" are carrying on pretty much as they always have?
Four of these cardinals, we are told, are considered front-runners for the papacy—and they are kidnapped right away by a character known only as the Assassin (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), who will go on to torture and kill them in excruciatingly painful ways. In the original novel, this villain was a member of the Muslim Hassassin sect and saw what he did as payback for the Crusades, but for some reason the filmmakers have turned him into a Danish hitman who does what he does purely for the money. Apparently, after indulging in certain stereotypes when it came to Catholics and albinos (remember the killer monk in the previous movie?), the filmmakers figured they had to be sensitive and draw the line somewhere.
Anyway, the Assassin issues a statement to the Vatican and its police, claiming to speak on behalf of the Illuminati, a secret society that supposedly included many top artists and scientists from the Renaissance and beyond. In his statement, the Assassin reveals that he will kill one cardinal per hour in a public place, before destroying the Vatican (and presumably much of Rome) with a piece of antimatter (yes, antimatter) that he stole from already brought the CERN particle-physics laboratory in Switzerland. Fortunately, the Vatican police have Robert Langdon (Hanks) in from the U.S. to help decipher the symbols that could lead to the Assassin's hiding place, and they have also brought in Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer), a scientist who was working on the antimatter just before it was stolen.