Angels & Demons
What's the Antimatter?
Da Vinci Code Sequel Goes Through the Roof
By Cole Smithey
For all of the Catholic Church hullabaloo over Dan Brown's novels, Ron Howard's "Da Vinci Code" sequel is an exuberant cinematic adaptation that combines elements of horror, religious tradition, and high-tech suspense to give audiences a non-stop thrill ride. Tom Hanks returns to his role as Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon who gets urgently summoned to Rome to assist the Swiss Guard, led by Stellan Skarsgard's Commander Richter, and the Vatican, in solving a mammoth crisis. The recent death of the Pope has left the Camerlengo--the temporary acting head of the Vatican State--(Ewan McGregor) overseeing conclave proceedings marred by the kidnapping of four eminent Cardinals by the infamous Illuminati, who have promised to kill one Cardinal each hour leading up to midnight when it will explode an antimatter bomb of unfathomable devastation. Aided by Italian physicist Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer), Langdon jockeys between the Vatican's sealed archives to various churches, attempting to follow the Illuminati's path and save the lives of the four Cardinals and locate the bomb in time to diffuse it. The story goes into an extended triple climax that is so preposterously over the top that any concern for the sanctity of religion or historic fact falls to the wayside. It may not be the best thriller you've ever seen, but it is the best one of the year, so far.
The story's far out parameters are established inside CERN (the European Council for Nuclear Research), a vast complex laboratory that holds the Large Hadron Collider, the largest particle accelerator in the world. Deep inside its imposing confines an unseen Illuminati interloper murders one of the technicians and removes one of the man's eyes to pass through pupil-identifying security corridors and obtain a canister of freshly minted antimatter that resembles a literal if tiny amount of lightening in a bottle. Ron Howard pulls the full Grand Guignol Monty and shows the extracted eyeball with its strands of bloody nerves hanging from it, thereby setting up the audience for many grotesqueries to follow. Vittoria discovers the body and its missing eye in a scene that could have come from a thousand horror movies.
The filmmakers clearly got the critical memos about "The Da Vinci Code," and have responded with plenty of gore underscored by a heart-racing score from Hans Zimmer ("The Dark Knight"). Rome's historic attractions take a high profile in spite of a lack of access for the filmmakers to many prominent church locations by Vatican officials. The Piazzas, facades, statues, the Sistine Chapel, and even the Trevi Fountain of Fellini's "La Dolce Vita" provide a magnificent backdrop to what is essentially a grand scale chase movie. Screenwriters David Koepp ("War of the Worlds") and Akiva Goldsman ("I Am Legend") have abbreviated character aspects of Brown's book--Vittoria is left out of much of the action--in favor of building up a climax that, regardless of its absurdity, takes your breath away for the sheer boldness of Ron Howard's execution. Most impressive is the non-CGI look of colossal action sequences that will challenge even the most diehard Dan Brown detractors to not be entertained.
Unlike "The Da Vinci Code," everything here has been carefully thought out. Some of the early exposition falls from Tom Hanks' mouth like odd chunks of misshapen marble, but everything after the first act proceeds like a well oiled Ferrari. The film is not without humor, and Hanks walks a fine line in letting the audience decide when to laugh at his less graceful moments. Hanks seems not to take Langdon's character as seriously as he did in the first film, and his relaxation allows you to trust in him as more than a mechanized narrative instrument. When Langdon falls over with a bookshelf that he's using to break out of an enclosed room in the Vatican archives, it's an easy laugh. We're on a ridiculous journey with a guy who, for all of his book smarts, is a bit of a simp. The best part of all is that there's no romance. After all, this is a thriller, by God.
(Sony Pictures) Rated PG-13. 138 mins. (B+) (Four, out of five, Stars)
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