Plot summary (with spoilers): The popular and progressive Pope has died, which means that a new Pope must be elected by the college of Cardinals. As a result, the most important figures in the Catholic church have descended on Vatican City to participate in the sacred rites of Conclave.
Meanwhile, at the CERN research facility in Geneva, Switzerland, someone has breached the building’s high-tech biometric security and stolen a small amount of antimatter, which scientist Vittoria Vetra (played by Ayelet Zurer) and her team had been working for years to create.
The scene then shifts to Harvard University, where symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is approached by a Vatican official requesting his help. Four cardinals, known as the preferiti, preferred ones, because they have the best chance of being elected Pope, have been kidnapped by the Illuminati, a secret society of “freethinkers” that was supposed to have died out long ago. Past Illuminati included such “radicals” as Galileo, Bernini, Rafael, and Goethe, men who challenged Church doctrine by insisting that science, not religion, could explain how the universe worked. The latest incarnation of the Illuminati have threatened to kill one preferiti per hour beginning at 8pm. Once all the preferiti have been disposed of, the highly unstable antimatter will explode, causing all of Vatican City and a significant portion of Rome to be destroyed.
From there, Langdon and Vetra race to follow ancient Illuminati clues to find their secret churches where the cardinals and antimatter are being held in order to save the men and recharge the antimatter casing batteries so the container can be safely returned to CERN. Langdon and Vetra are aided by Vatican City officials Inspector Olivetti (Pierfrancesco Favino) and Commander Richter (Stellan Skarsgård), as well as by the Carmelengo (Ewan McGregor), an official of the Papal Court.
My Reaction: I read the Dan Brown novel far too long ago to remember specifics and nitpick any changes the screenwriters chose to make. And I know there are tons of flaws in the film’s treatment of antimatter and its properties. But I’m not going to discuss any of that because I simply don’t know enough about it myself in order to refute what was presented. Instead, I’m just going to talk about the story I saw.
I thought Angels & Demons was far more entertaining than its (film) predecessor The Da Vinci Code. I think the “ticking bomb” plot device really helped this movie stay on track, as there were absolutely no wasted scenes along the way. The film clocks in at about 2 hours and 10 minutes long, but the time flies by quickly because the characters just race from one clue to another on their way to finding the cardinals and the antimatter.
I enjoyed the twist at the end, and have to admit that I was taken by surprise even though I had read the book. It was so well executed that even as the Carmelengo was being discussed as a possibility for Pope, I was like, “Wait, wasn’t he supposed to be the bad guy??” I didn’t know if the filmmakers had decided to put it all on Richter or not, so I was caught off guard there. And Carmelengo’s helicopter heroics looked very cool on screen, whereas in the book, the description sounded rather ridiculous.
The clues that Langdon and Vetra had to unravel here weren’t as interesting or jaw-dropping as those in The Da Vinci Code, but it was still fun hearing about what the Illuminati might have been up to. And even though I know Brown made up that last book of Galileo’s, I still had to shake my head at the thought of the Vatican giving such a rare and valuable text to Langdon. No way would that happen! (Yeah, yeah — no way would 99% of the rest of the movie happen either, but this point totally bothered me.)
Overall, Angels & Demons was a fun, entertaining way to spend a couple of hours. If you’re content to enjoy the action without feeling the need to nitpick everything that happens on screen, I think you’ll like this one. I give it 4 stars out of 5.