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At times the optimism of Hollywood is very admirable. When you create something as horrible (and that is not a strong enough word) as 2006’s The Da Vinci Code, climb under a rock due to the laughter and ridicule, and then turn around 3 years later and release the sequel, well, that has to take some gumption for sure. Either that or you pray that today’s “in the moment audience” will have forgotten how utterly ridiculous the past failure was. Attention Hollywood: I did not forget. That dismal Da Vinci is etched into my mind as 2 and a half hours of my life I will never get back. Bitter? A little. So it only makes sense that I walked into Angels & Demons with a little reserve and a whole lot of animosity. This was director Ron Howards chance to make up for the last 8 or so years of mediocrity and do something worthy of his name. Time for Opie to step it up.

Angels & Demons is based on the novel by Dan Brown and has a returning Tom Hanks as Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon. He is called upon by the Vatican to help investigate the kidnapping of four Roman Cardinals during the voting in of a new pope. What he finds is more a terrorist threat. A bomb has been planted somewhere in Vatican City and it is up to Langdon, a female scientist Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer ) and the prior popes right hand man Camerlengo Patrick McKenna (Ewan McGregor) to figure out ancient clues to find the bomb and save the Cardinals. It is a race against time and old church tradition. The terrorist plot points toward an ancient sect known as The Illuminati, a group who has a century’s old vendetta against the Catholic Church. Langdon must decipher their history in order to find the clues necessary to save the day. To the pope mobile!!

This film succeeds by doing everything that its predecessor did not. It combines ancient church culture, a thrilling race against time, and a treasure hunt of Roman artistry. It does not try to be controversial in its story line but allows history to be engaging. Think of it as sort of a “National Treasure” within the Catholic Church. Though a firm believer in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, I am not a religious man at all but I can respect the history and the reverence of religion. Angels & Demons used that religious realm as a foundation to build on, not to dismantle it as it did earlier with the lineage of Jesus The Christ. It is a mystery that just happens to use the Vatican instead of the White House as its backdrop. And it works wonderfully.

There is so much beautiful history in Rome and this film uses it to its advantage. Wide shots of the city combined with journeys down its narrow streets puts you right into the culture. The writing is also superior. Gone is the ridiculous dialogue and attempt at intrigue that the Da Vinci flop tried to pass off. True there are lines delivered here that make you sort of giggle and roll your eyes. But there is a little lenience in this type of film. Strong acting and deeper characters make up for it in the long run. The addition of Ewan McGregor to the cast fits nicely. He has this soft sincerity about him that worked great for the priest hood. His performance is passionate as he goes up against old world theology in an attempt to get to the truth. Hanks even redeems himself from the past Langdon role. We find this Robert more with it and relatable.

It seems that Howard learned from the past mistakes and used it to create a much better film. Where as The Da Vince code should be expunged from the annals of movie history, Angels & Demons is a decent successor to the theatrical throne. Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, disturbing images and thematic material it is an honest rating. There are plenty of gunfire and assassin style killings. This plus the violent deaths of some of the Priesthood make for imagery that may not be suitable for pre teens. Everyone else will discover a tightly wound thriller that though a little long at 2 hours and 20 minutes is still a mystery worth checking out. I give it a strong 3.75 out of 5 pope hats. It redeemed itself for sure.

  Matt Munglewww.mungleshow.com 2009 Mungleshow Productions

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