Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is shocked to find proof that the legendary secret society, the Illuminati – dedicated since the time of Galileo to promoting the interests of science and condemning the blind faith of Catholicism – is alive, well, and murderously active.

 Tom cracks the code, again.

The vast majority of the world’s critics loathed The Da Vinci Code, Ron Howard’s movie based on Dan Brown’s best-selling novel – which promptly raked in a spectacular $US758 million at cinemas globally.

So I suspect reviewers who feel inclined to damn the sequel, Angels & Demons, are wasting their breath. Besides, the crits’ main grievances against the 2006 film – that it was overly-talky, static, arcane and boring can’t be levelled this time.

This is a slickly-made serial-killer thriller, cloaked in a lot of guff about religion and the science of anti-matter. It’s almost breathlessly-paced, intermittently exciting and far from predictable. Even the Vatican, no fan of the first movie, was disarmed. L\'Osservatore Romano, the official newspaper of Vatican City, described it as more than two hours of 'harmless entertainment, which hardly affects the genius and mystery of Christianity\" and \"a video game that first of all sparks curiosity and is also, maybe, a bit of fun.\"

The movie opens with the death of the Pope and the traditional gathering of the Cardinals to elect his successor. Their deliberations are somewhat sidetracked when four of their number are kidnapped, with the threat that they will be publicly executed at the rate of one per hour, starting at 8 pm, followed by an explosion which will destroy the City.

The Vatican reluctantly summonses Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), the Harvard professor of iconography and religious art, who caused them much angst in The Da Vinci Code. A smart guy, Langdon soon figures out it’s all an evil plot by the Illuminati, the secret society founded in 1776 which, in Brown’s fevered imagination, is still hell-bent on avenging the church\'s violent attacks against its members; some conspiracy-theorists believe this mob to this day is intent on establishing a New World Order.

Racing literally against the clock to avert disaster, Langdon is aided by Vittoria Vetra (Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer), an Italian scientist who works at the Swiss particle physics laboratory from where a canister containing lethal anti-matter was stolen.

Aside from trying to rescue the cardinals, save Rome and chase the bad guy (yes, just one, amazingly), they have to contend with the machinations of Vatican politics involving the Camerlengo (Ewan McGregor), the young Irish priest who’s acting head of state of Vatican City; the belligerent Swiss Guard Commander Richter (Stellan Skarsgård); and shrewd old Cardinal Strauss (Armin Mueller-Stahl), who\'s presiding over the papal election.

Our intrepid duo embarks on a thrilling hunt through sealed crypts, catacombs, abandoned cathedrals, crowds and traffic, while spouting a lot of dialogue to explain how they’re picking up various clues. A series of impressive action set-pieces leads to a spectacular climax which is both grisly and more than a little shocking.

The screenplay by David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman sacrifices characterizations for plot: only the Camerlengo has a back-story which becomes more significant as the movie unfolds. Hanks brings his trademark mix of laconic humour, charm and integrity, and there are some funny exchanges between Langdon and Vittoria. McGregor seems the very model of an idealistic, committed young prelate and Zurer relies on brains rather than sex appeal to make her character interesting, while Skarsgård and Mueller-Stahl show glimpses of humanity beneath their frowns. It’s all hokum, but, as the Vatican would agree, an enjoyable ride.

There’s more to come. Columbia has already optioned Dan Brown\'s next Langdon adventure, The Lost Symbol, which will be published in September.

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2 hours 10 min
Wed, 10/07/2009 - 11