The highly controversial sequel to the highly controversial The DaVinci Code finds Ron Howard transforming Tom Hanks' hero, Robert Langdon, into a leaner action machine. Gone is much of the scholarly dust that was generously sprinkled throughout Hanks’ portrayal of Dan Brown's signature Symbologist. In its place is a Langdon who has learned from his past run-ins with brainy criminals looking to get what they can out of him before snuffing out his neurological flame. Hanks resumes the role of Robert Langdon with gusto --but was there ever any doubt he wouldn't?
The problems Angels & Demons encounter have nothing to do with Tom Hanks or the ensemble cast — in fact, if it weren’t for the extraordinary efforts of Hanks, Ewen McGregor, and Ayelet Zurer, Angels & Demons would amount to nothing but a poorly conceived action movie. The fault of the film — and the burgeoning series — lies with Ron Howard. The director has delivered a magnificent spool of classic films, each carefully crafted in hopes that the audience will connect with the characters on the big screen. Despite being slow and saggy, The DaVinci Code could not be attacked for a lack of character depth, as it succeeded at transforming the bestseller's shallow personages into real people. Angels & Demons falls short and comes off as a one-trick pony. The only character Howard fleshes out is Langdon. We rarely catch a glimpse of depth in McGregor’s Camerlengo Patrick McKenna and Zurer’s Vittoria Vetra. Howard makes sure to slip in a bit of history for each, going so far as to give us a brief Camerlengo soliloquy early on that sets up the film’s action-packed climax. But the characters (including Langdon) only serve as props for the next action sequence.
And even this effort fails. The action often falls flat, with speeding cars darting from one withering cathedral to the next in an effort to provide big thrills. Paired with an uninspired script, these sequences are almost appalling. They are all too predictable, which, considering the lack of character development, becomes an exercise in patience. Thankfully, the film's two hours fly by, and the quick pacing nearly saves Angels & Demons. Howard is determined, perhaps because of the criticism its predecessor garnered, to keep the plot moving. The DaVinci Code allowed the audience to try and figure out the puzzles along with Hanks, but Angels & Demons works on a clock, leaving no time to involve the audience. This excitement, at least, lends Angels & Demons an ounce of summer blockbuster viability.
Ron Howard has been wise to steer clear of sequels in the past, and Angels & Demons will only cement this decision for casual fans of the director and ardent critics alike. However, Dan Brown’s third Robert Langdon-based novel is upon us, and it feels almost certain that Hanks and Howard will reunite one more time to bring it to life. One would imagine the duo would have learned from their original mistakes. Here’s to hoping that, should a third film arise, Howard will finally get it right.