I’ve just spent more than two hours with Dr. Robert Langdon and I still really only know three things about him. One: He’s some sort of puzzle doctor. Two: He likes to swim in a speedo. Three: He doesn’t smoke. This is a sequel, so maybe I’m already supposed know everything I need to know about his character from having seen The Da Vinci Code, but even fans of the series are unlikely to remember his stint there as anything other than Tom Hanks wearing a ridiculous wig. He’s ditched the bad hair here, but he’s still devoid of life and you’ll be unable to detect even the faintest hint of a personality. That’s the real problem with this franchise. None of these characters have any depth. It’s not just Langdon, none of the people in this film have any actual traits to speak of. They have no history, no interests, no quirks, no passions, no pains, no hopes or dreams. They’re just empty ciphers who wander through the film spouting mostly meaningless dialogue about silly clues which all seem to boil down to angry statues pointing at stone slabs. Worse, the one person in the film who does have a personality is the villain, and because of that you’ll figure out exactly who he is within the first five minutes. It has to be him, he’s the only character worth knowing. We may be on the wrong side here.
Angels & Demons is like watching an Indiana Jones movie without any of the action, adventure, romance, or style. Robert Langdon is basically Indy stripped of both his wit and his whip, and then sent to wander around Vatican City with a hot Italian chick in whom he shows absolutely no interest. If Langdon has a libido, or even glands of any kind, Hanks does a good job of keeping them hidden. Instead he’s more interested in helping the Catholic Church, which hires him to help them solve the mystery of some kidnapped Cardinals and then once he arrives does its level best to pay absolutely no attention to him. Langdon stays on the trail anyway and gets very nearly murdered for his trouble. At no point does this seem to bother him or for that matter anyone around him. He simply keeps walking, oblivious and unaffected in any way. It’s not that he’s unflappable, it’s more like those things never happened and he’s already moved on to the next scene.
Director Ron Howard does deserve at least a little credit for convincingly recreating Vatican City without ever actually taking his cameras inside it. Their crew was banned from filming on the premises, though you’d never know it. Langdon strolls at a reasonable pace from one corner of Pope country to the next and it’s utterly convincing. Scenery is this movie’s strength and Howard is too good a director for his movie to look anything other than fantastic. In fact at times it looks so fantastic you may be momentarily fooled into thinking something interesting it happens. Unfortunately, it’s just another statue with fig leaf genitals.
It is however, easy to see why the Catholic Church has avoided slapping this sequel with the same loud and angry boycott it dogged The Da Vinci Code with. Da Vinci at least had the toy with established church doctrine. It got people thinking. Angels & Demons is either disinterested or incapable of doing the same. It’s approach to the subject of religion and history is at best, wishy-washy stuff filled with half-hearted attempts by Langdon to remind the audience that December 25th isn’t really the date of Jesus birth, all while we’re lectured by priests about the nature of God and faith. Angels & Demons is disappointingly inoffensive. Tepid though Da Vinci Code’s story might have been, at least it had the ability to piss people off. The sequel, unable to either entertain or provoke, is nothing short of a dismal, limp-wristed failure. It’s hard to fault either Hanks or Howard for it, it’s simply bland material which probably wasn’t even worth reading let alone making into a blockbuster, summer sequel.