This is the second movie adapted from the best-selling Dan Brown novels about Professor Robert Langdon. It's based on the first book, but director Ron Howard and star Tom Hanks didn't want to make a prequel.
Good thing too! In an interview with Charlie Rose two days prior to this film's release, Howard said he didn't want to reverse engines. Howard said he heard the criticism of the previous film and decided he wanted to move forward, advance things, and improve upon what he had done.
I'm glad. In fact, Howard has done what only rarely occurs. He has made a sequel/prequel that is better than the original, and for a director who doesn't like doing sequels, I commend him. Howard and Hanks made a more thrilling, more exciting and certainly more satisfying film than The Da Vinci Code.
A lot of it, I'm sure, is due to the fact that Hanks agreed not to repeat that hideous hairstyle. But, besides the hair, the film hits many of the same plot points. A murder mystery that has implications to the Catholic Church, particularly the Vatican, calls Langdon to action.
Instead of Paris, the symbologist runs around the streets of Rome. Instead of the Priory of Sion, the secret, evil organization is the Illuminati. Instead of Sir Isaac Newton, Botticelli, and Leonardo da Vinci, Langdon references Galileo Galilei, Bernini, and Raphael Santini, and instead of Sophie Neveu, the dark-haired, French beauty, he has Vittoria Vetra, the dark-haired, Italian beauty to accompany him.
The Illuminati has kidnapped four very important Cardinals. The group has also taken a container of antimatter from the CERN laboratory in Switzerland. Antimatter is a very volatile substance. If not properly stored, it could have the destructive power of an atom bomb.
Langdon and Vetra have only five hours to find the Cardinals and get the antimatter back before it blows. If you ever wanted a tour of Rome's greatest churches, this is certainly the film for you. Langdon must follow a breadcrumb trail of dead bodies to all these churches in order to get the truth.
The truth isn't as crazy and far-fetched as in the last film. It's certainly not as controversial or as offensive than Jesus Christ having an affair with Mary Magdalene who bore his blood descendants. Although after that, I don't know how you could have offended the Church more. There's no way to top a Jesus Christ conspiracy like that, except to say that he was gay.
What impressed me the most is despite being two and a half hours long how quickly this movie actually moved. The Da Vinci Code had me yawning as the filmmakers took too much time explaining Fibonacci numbers and how The Last Supper painting has vagina shapes in it. The first film was as boring as all Heaven, advanced at a pace of harps playing.
With this film, I describe it as brisk. There feels like not a wasted second. The ticking time clock shuffles us along. The scenes fly by with an energy that is never dull. Plus, the amount and level of the action sequences have been amplified.
The dead body count in this movie is definitely higher. The inventiveness and power of how Howard has staged a number of the action and death scenes, mixed with some nifty special effects, are particularly memorable. The Vatican archives, the fire at Santa Maria, and the finale over St. Peter's Square are scenes that will stick with you.
I liked Hanks in this role. I think he felt more comfortable, but the man who really steals the show is Ewan McGregor who plays Patrick McKenna, the priest who represents the Camerlengo and who runs the Vatican in the absence of the Pope. McGregor does a good job of playing this man of faith, righteous and certain of his convictions.
McGregor's character has a couple of scenes, which directly address the issue of science versus religion. The death scene in St. Peter's Square even involves a group of people who argue over stem cells. With President Obama having recently lifted the ban on federal funding on stem cell research, it becomes appropriate and timely.
This movie hyperbolizes the science vs. religion fight to its extremes. As the opening of this film relates, the ancient traditions are coming into conflict with the modern world. I've already seen several news reports that have ripped this movie for its historical inaccuracies. I won't compound them, but I will say that, for the most part, the people in this story agree that science and religion are not mutually exclusive and essentially that science and religion are telling the same story in two different languages.
The filmmakers never push the envelope and only scratch the surface of the debate. The real struggle is over political power of the papacy, but bravo for making it interesting!
Four Stars out of Five
Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and thematic material
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 18 mins.