"Angels" delivers far-fetched, fast-paced thrills

Tue May 5, 2009 9:35pm EDT
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By Deborah Young

ROME (Hollywood Reporter) - Science or religion? Wait, there's room for both.

If the world could be rendered as simple as "Angels & Demons," we'd all be living in a less confusing place. Taking to heart the critics' lament that the first Dan Brown novel-to-film, "The Da Vinci Code," was talky, static and arcane, director Ron Howard and his crew have worked hard to make Professor Robert Langdon's return a thrilling, faster-paced walk in the park.

It will be difficult for this papal mystery, beautifully shot in Rome and Rome-like locations, to gross less than its phenomenal predecessor, which topped $750 million worldwide for Sony Pictures in 2006. The new film opens stateside May 15.

Plucking the same violent, occult strings as "Da Vinci" while avoiding its leadenness, "Angels" keeps the action coming for the best part of 139 minutes. Scripters David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman have taken a firmer hand with Brown's material. The opening scene, for example, omits the hypersonic Vatican jet that transports crack Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) from Cambridge to Geneva in an hour, opting for more conventional means to get him to Rome and into the thick of the action.

Although this attack of realism might disappoint the book's diehard fans, it pays off in depicting the Vatican as a fairly "normal" nation-state, and not as some all-powerful SMERSH-like nemesis. And in the end, most of those who attacked the film before seeing it on grounds of its being anti-Catholic will have to eat their words, as the warm-hearted ending casts a rosy glow around the College of Cardinals, the papacy and the faithful throngs in St. Peter's Square.

But back to the plot. The pope is dead, and the Catholic Church is preparing to elect a new one. The handsome young Camerlengo Patrick (Ewan McGregor), who was raised by the late pope, is heartbroken.

Whisked to the Vatican at the behest of Inspector Olivetti (fine Italian thesp Pierfrancesco Favino), Langdon learns that the four cardinals who are the most likely papal candidates have been kidnapped. In Vatican security, he meets scientist Vittoria Vetra (sultry Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer), privy to insider knowledge about how a cylinder of antimatter was brutally stolen from the Cern labs in Geneva. It's child's play to put two and two together and realize that the Vatican is about to be blown up by the ticking bomb of antimatter.

Into this futuristic world of protons and neutrons erupts the long-forgotten religious cult of the Illuminati, a group of 17th century forward thinkers who championed scientific truth and were forced underground by the Church. Now they're back, in the mysterious person of a fanatic assassin (Nikolaj Lie Kaas).   Continued...

<p>Actor Tom Hanks and Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer (R) arrive at the world premiere of the movie "Angels &amp; Demons" in Rome May 4, 2009. REUTERS/Tony Gentile</p>