Dir. Ron Howard, US, 2009, 138 mins
Cast: Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Stellan Skarsgard
Review by Carol Allen
This is, of course. the sequel to The Da Vinci Code, based on Dan Brown's novel of the same name (and which was, in fact, a prequel), and once more featuring symbologist/crossword clue solver extraordinaire Robert Langdon (Hanks). And the mixture is pretty much as before.
This time the setting is Rome rather than Paris. And it does look very handsome. As with Da Vinci and Paris, the joins between what was shot at the actual locations and what was recreated in the studio are seamless. They do a very convincing St Peter's Square, for example, and you get a good run down on most of the top cultural spots for your money, which is good news for Rome's tourist industry.
Although not quite up to the strikingly laid out dead body in the Louvre in the first film, there's an attention grabbing opening - the ritual around the death of the pope cross cut with an experiment in creating anti-matter at the European Nuclear Physics Research Centre (CERN) in Geneva. The basic plot is fairly straightforward: an ancient secret society called the Illuminati - or the Enlightened Ones - made up of scientists who were opposed to the inflexible dogma of the Catholic church, has resurfaced and kidnapped the four top running candidates for the papal office, whom they are planning to kill in nasty and yes, ritualistic ways. They've also hijacked the highly explosive anti matter from Switzerland, which they're going to use to blow up Rome, unless Langdon can crack the code of the enigmatic clues left by the Illuminati, save the cardinals and Rome itself. Cue for action packed hunt through crypts, catacombs, cathedrals and so on.
Brown as a novelist writes a good page turner but the problem with filming his books is that they involve an awful lot of explanatory dialogue, which here is rather indistinctly delivered. The essentials of the plot are clear visually, but a lot of the detail of Robert's deductions and bizarre theories, which are half the fun if you're into this sort of thing, tend to get lost in a mumble. So if you haven't read the book, you might find yourself a bit left out in the cold at times. The strongest character - and the clearest of speech - is McGregor as Patrick, Carmerlengo or secretary to the late Pope and acting head of state until the next one's elected. He charms, intrigues and convinces. Robert, as before, is more of a clue solving machine than a character. His right hand girl this time is Vittoria (Ayelet Zurer), supposedly a clever rocket scientist or some such from the CERN project, but in terms of the action basically "the girl's part". Skaarsgard makes an impression as the devotedly Catholic chief of the Swiss Guard, as does Danish actor Nikolaj Lie Kaas as the Illuminati assassin.
There are some well staged action sequences, as when Robert and one of the Vatican policemen are trapped in the papal archives with the oxygen running out. The murders of the cardinals are suitably gruesome and there's some impressive aerial fireworks towards the end, when McGregor hijacks the film from Hanks and comes over all heroic. In fact, for a mad moment, it looks like Ewan for Pope, he's so popular. Considering though that the supposed intellectual base of the story is the conflict between science and religion, it doesn't make much of the fact that the bomb, being composed of anti matter, is a potent symbol of that tussle in contemporary terms. It could frankly just be any old bomb.
The film overall is an efficient thriller and entertaining enough, though when the chat breaks out, it tends to slow to a crawl. And despite the supposed controversy regarding the Church's fears about Dan Brown's views, there isn't really anything for its members to worry about with this one, as indeed there wasn't with Da Vinci. In fact, it's quite good PR for them.