It might not ruffle as many miters as Bill Maher’s 2008 God-is-the-equivalent-of-an-imaginary-friend documentary Religulous, or even The Da Vinci Code, the first film based on author Dan Brown’s bestselling novels. When two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks dismisses faith in favor of science in Ron Howard’s Angels & Demons, however, you know there’ll be a few extra Hail Marys uttered for the souls of the entire production.
Nevertheless, when it comes to all things religious, not even a talented director like Howard can enlighten everyone. Nor can he and screenwriters David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman manage to compress Brown’s text into an insightful narrative. Their version really should be renamed CSI: Vatican City.
In A&D, Hanks reprises his role as Harvard University symbologist Robert Langdon, the protagonist pitted against an angry albino and a secret sect of the Catholic Church in 2006’s Da Vinci conspiracy. Here, the professor teams up with more God-fearing men to discover who is responsible for the disappearance of four Vatican cardinals and the theft of a top-secret science experiment that could annihilate Rome if it’s not found in time.
Clues point to the Illuminati, a centuries-old underground society made up of Catholic free thinkers for whom the fine line between religion and scientific truth is always smudged. Needless to say, this idea doesn’t jibe with the traditional Church’s contention that “ancient traditions `are` threatened by a modern world.” (Prayer chain emails, by extension, must be the root of all evil.) There is, however, never an authentic sense of conflict between these concepts beyond the film’s conspicuous amped-up tempo after the much-maligned sluggish pace of its predecessor. Science and technology may very well lead to the death of theology, but A&D’s preaching lacks any real conviction.