At its best, Angels & Demons is a brilliantly bad thriller. Based on the novel of the same name by Dan Brown, it sees Tom Hanks reprising the role of Robert Langdon that he first portrayed in The Da Vinci Code. It then throws together some hokum plot about a bomb in Rome, and the kidnapping of four Cardinals by the ancient Illuminati, with one set to be killed every hour. Set over one night, the stage is then set for a fast paced thriller, one that managed to coin in some serious cash at the box office over the summer.
Cards on the table: I really struggled with the predecessor to Angels & Demons, The Da Vinci Code. As a movie, I found it comfortably one of the most tedious, unthrilling thrillers I’d seen in recent times, and it took three attempts before I could get through the thing without falling asleep. Overlong, and only heightened by the occasional decent sequence and Tom Hanks’ stupendously entertaining acting, The Da Vinci Code was a one-star bore.
Angels & Demons, fortunately, is better, but not by much. Once again it’s too long, and this Blu-ray release laughably has an utterly unrequired extended version. But it does have moments of entertainment. It’s at its best in the search for the four aforementioned Cardinals (the four prime candidates to be the Pope, as the film finds the Vatican in Conclave), as Hanks’ Langdon has to solve puzzles to track down their location before they’re killed. Their deaths are set to be an hour apart, and that means that you have to swallow an awful lot of illogical hokum to believe all of the events of the film could fit into one night. Robert Langdon is like Jack Bauer with Red Bull in his veins by the end of the film.
What makes this segment of the film work, though, is that it has some momentum to it, some solid direction from Ron Howard, classy settings and a wonderfully daft script. The clues – with apologies to our overseas readers – reminded me of the questions Ted Rodgers used to ask on the quiz show 3-2-1, given that there seemed no way that any human being could decipher them. Heck, at times I yearned for Tom Hanks to step out of the way and let Nicolas Cage’s character from National Treasure step in instead, who I reckon could have rampaged through them in half the time. He’d easily be my phone a friend on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.
Sadly, the film runs out of energy around the 90 minute mark, with around three quarters of an hour yet to go. It eventually peters out into something of a plodding bore, as it yanks predictable twists – and some good effects work – on the way to its finale.
What does help, though, is that Angels & Demons has a cast it doesn’t deserve. Hanks is fine in the lead role (although the haircut is tragically sensible), but it’s the supporting players such as the terrific Stellan Skarsgard, the not-too-bad Ewan McGregor and the always-watchable Armin Mueller-Stahl that shore things up.
But they’re not miracle workers, and neither is director Ron Howard, who surely could have spent another couple of weeks in the editing room to tighten things up here. As it stands, I do think that Angels & Demons is an improvement on what went before, but it’s the latest evidence that shows Hollywood is struggling to make too many decent thrillers right now. Occasionally unintentional funny, sporadically entertaining but ultimately less than the sum of its parts, Angels & Demons is a cautious rental at best.
The disc includes Sony’s new Movie IQ feature, which effectively allows you to call up an online database relevant to the film. It’d be ideal for those moments when you wondered where you’d seen a particular actor before, apparently, but given that my wireless network was down while I was reviewing the disc, I couldn’t get a web connection to give it a try. Sorry. The same goes for CineChat.
Then there’s the Path To Illumination game, which allows you to unlock material. I must admit, I’m not a desperate fan of Blu-ray games, and I’d rather the footage was all given to you without having to battle through one. It’s perfectly competent, but I soon tired of it.
The Rome Was Not Built In A Day feature begins as a whistle-stop talking head tour of some of the people involved behind the scenes, from the production design and costumes, through to director Ron Howard himself. The early best bit is a brief shot that hints at some of the subtle effects work in the movie, and soon, the feature goes into more depth. Touching on shooting around Rome, without actually going in the Vatican, the recreating of St Peter’s Square in Hollywood, the amount of green screen, CG modelling and the bigger effects sequences, it’s an extra worth sticking with. It runs to just over 17 minutes.
Cern: Pushing The Frontiers Of Knowledge, meanwhile, is a featurette looking at the particle physics laboratory looking to recreate the big bang. It plays an important part in the first act of the film, and this is a good way to spend 15 minutes. It’s certainly not the kind of feature you expect on a blockbuster movie’s disc release.
Finally, there’s Angels & Demons: The Full Story, which is the standard press kit making-of piece. Dan Brown pops up here, along with Tom Hanks, Ron Howard et al, but it’s 10 minutes of promotional guff, really.
Fortunately, the disc presentation is strong, though, with a high class of picture and audio quality, as you’d expect of such a young and expensive film. Some of the wider shots in particular look terrific, and given the darkness of many of the films scenes, the transfer makes the job look effortless.
It adds up to a passable, if hardly spectacular package, for a film that ultimately it’s hard to imagine rewatching that often. If at all…
The Film:The Disc:
Angels & Demons is out on Blu-ray now.