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Angels and Demons review

Hanks holds the key to the Holy See…

Shorter, tidier and altogether sharper.

But enough on Tom Hanks’ hair; how’s the film? Thankfully similar applies to this Da Vinci Code follow-up, director Ron Howard acting on the lessons he learnt from that bloated 2006 misstep to deliver a kinetic if mechanical thriller that, this time around, doesn’t treat Dan Brown’s source novel as Holy Scripture.

True, writers David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman adhere fairly closely to Brown’s plot, a harum-scarum caper that sees Hanks’ urbane symbologist racing around Rome in search of a) the secret lair of an ancient brotherhood of scientists, b) an assassin offing the four cardinals most likely to be elected Pope and c) a futuristic doomsday weapon capable of levelling the Vatican.

It’s overstuffed tosh, of course – though at least some of the author’s crazier embellishments are jettisoned (the killer, for example, is no longer an Arabian rapist), as is his interminable exploration of the vast CERN physics lab (here reduced to a cameo role).

OK, so maybe the film could have done with less arcane Catholic trivia, delivered with too much earnestness by Ewan McGregor’s Papal deputy and an opening voiceover from Da Vinci alumnus Alfred Molina.

But after a sluggish start, Howard mostly has Tom’s Robert Langdon (who remains a cipher, lacking signs of inner life) and nuclear physicist Ayelet Zurer explain things on the hoof, their expositional dialogue on Galileo, Bernini and the God Particle squeezed between car chases, gunfights and hair’s breadth escapes from burning churches.

By cramming the action into six hectic hours, meanwhile, Howard also avoids Code’s anti-climactic lack of purpose – it’s a surprise to find Angels clocking in only 10 minutes less than its languid predecessor.

Credit’s due to Hans Zimmer’s dynamic score, busy set-pieces on a convincing replica of St Peter’s Square and the odd welcome flash of humour, the latter piercing the overarching sense of pomposity.

And while there is nothing quite so bizarre here as Paul Bettany’s self-flagellating Albino monk, the film does start with something no less unexpected – Hanks doing laps in a pair of crotch-hugging Speedos.

Neil Smith

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