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Agnostic on a mission from God

  • 21 May 2009

Angels and Demons: 138 minutes. Rated: M. Director: Ron Howard. Starring: Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Stellan Skarsgård, Ayelet Zurer

I'm a Dan Brown novice. I avoided his novels and the film version of The Da Vinci Code. I suspected that they were overhyped trash. And that the controversy over their Catholic Church bashing was simply more rubber for the popularity tyre fire.

So I viewed Angels and Demons, the movie sequel based on Brown's prequel novel, with low expectations. I was surprised. I spent the next two hours thoroughly entertained by this thriller. Angels and Demons is a live-action cartoon, offering a few laughs, a few thrills, and nary a demand to use one's brain. It is trash, but boy, what fun!

Symbologist Robert Langdon (Hanks), having, in The Da Vinci Code, attempted to uncover a conspiracy at the foundations of the Church, is now called to the Church's aid. It seems the Illuminati, an ancient brotherhood of scientists and artists with a beef against the hierarchy, has reemerged to execute their counterpunch. This consists of a methodical act of terrorism designed to hobble the Church at its hub.

The Church is, meanwhile, in a state of stasis; the Pope has died, and the Cardinals are in Conclave, enacting the rituals that will lead to the election of a new Pope. The threat has arrived while they are at their most vulnerable. Now they depend upon Langdon, previously their nemesis, to be their saviour.

Langdon, an Illuminati expert, is also a hero from the same mold as Indiana Jones (sans wise-cracks and whip). He's an academic with a dash of derring-do. He scoots around the streets of Vatican City, an agnostic on a mission from God, ever in physical danger as he follows the clues and tries to solve the puzzle laid before him.

Just as the camera devours the authentic scenery, so too does the script dip and taste from Church history and religious art — the origins of the Illuminati, its fractious relationship with the Church and, pertinently, the works of the sculptor Bernini. Obscure references and the minutiae of Catholic ceremony are laid bare for the layman.

If you had to pick a word to describe Hanks, 'likeable' might be it. In that respect, his casting as Langdon is perfect. Even those who thought The Da Vinci Code was sacrilege of a deadly variety surely couldn't maintain their disdain with Forrest Gump in the lead role.