So, I have a friend who loves Ewan McGregor and hates Tom Hanks. I wonder if she saw Angels and Demons, the 2009 sequel to The Da Vinci Code, and if she did, I wonder what she made of it. Director Ron Howard is back, and proves once again that you can never actually tell what your going to get from him from movie to movie, even within the same franchise. Regarding McGregor, because he's playing a priest and representative of the Vatican in this movie, there was NO chance that we would get to see his endowment in this movie, which, frankly is disappointing. But then, this was made before the current scandals that are tearing the Catholic Church asunder really started to break. A missed opportunity, but you're not going to get that from a Ron Howard film or a film starring Tom Hanks anyway, so what the hell, eh?
In any event, to recap: I hated The Da Vinci Code, which I thought telegraphed its plot so thoroughly that the CSI-style flashbacks were wholly unnecessary. The sequel is quite a bit better, and not just because it dispenses with the flashbacks. It also throws in enough red herrings to make the plot at least a little bit more surprising. Plus, it takes its cues from The Abominable Dr. Phibes, though this film is Phibes on speed. Hanks is back again as symbologist Robert Langdon, who in this film is recruited by the Church (as opposed to being thwarted by it in the first movie) to help decipher the clues in the abduction of the four preferati (leading candidates for the papacy), on the eve of the conclave. The evidence points to the reappearance of the Illuminati, about which Langdon knows a bit. Meanwhile, a vial of antimatter has been stolen from the Large Hadron Collider and turned into a bomb that threatens to destroy the Vatican. So we get another treasure hunt. In most respects, it's the same movie as the first one, minus the goofy conspiracy. The conspiracy in THIS movie is only preposterous, which is one of the reasons that this is better than its predecessor by quite a lot.
Some things I liked about this film are things I liked a great deal. First: Tom Hanks has a MUCH better haircut in this movie. You may think that's a small thing, but did you SEE the haircut they gave him in the first film? Seriously. In a more sober vein, I also like the idea that Langdon is an atheist hero and admits to it when pressed by McGregor's Camerlengo: "Tells me I'm not meant to. Faith is a gift that I have yet to receive." Further, he doesn't recant at the end of the movie, which is amazing given the strong Catholic appeasement the movie indulges. I also like the depiction of the Large Hadron Colider, which, lets face it, IS one of the places in the world that could probably make that quantity of antimatter. It's also a spectacular location. The science here isn't ignorant, nor is the movie's token scientist/eye candy, Ayelet Zurer, whose role is to explain what antimatter is and to act as a foil for Langdon, someone he can spout exposition to. It's not that bad, really. There have been a LOT worse versions of this character. I also like the film's instinct for the jugular. There are several "themed" murders in this film (a la Phibes), and they are wonderfully ghastly. Finally, Rome remains one of the most photogenic cities in the world. The Eternal City, indeed.
So, all in all, a surprise. It's not a great movie at all. It's a popcorn movie that's fun while you're watching it. There are even a few things along its running time that stick in the memory. I'm glad that I didn't pay money to see this in the theater, though, because when you insert an economic element, it tends to change the amount of slack I give a movie. Take that however you like.