Tom Hanks stars as professor Robert Langdon, the most respected symbologist in the United States, who uses his knowledge in order to decode a symbol on the skin of a murder victim. The clues put him on the trail of an international conspiracy involving the Catholic Church.
As many of you already know, Dan Brown's 'Angels & Demons' actually came before 'The Da Vinci Code' and was the first book to introduce the world to the character of Robert Langdon. Thankfully, both stories are fairly self-contained, so when it came time to make this movie, Ron Howard wisely opted to turn it into a sequel instead of going the prequel route. But other than a few references to Langdon's 'history' with the Catholic Church by a few of the characters, one doesn't need to be familiar with The Da Vinci Code to understand or enjoy 'Angels & Demons', although obviously it's encouraged – just to have a sense of Robert Langdon as a character going into this sequel.
This time out, Langdon (Tom Hanks) is called to The Vatican in Rome where the Pope has recently died and the top four Cardinals expected to be in the running to be the next Pope have been kidnapped. A device containing anti-matter (aka the "God particle") has been stolen as well, and the kidnappers – who claim to be a modern-day version of the Illuminati, an ancient secret society with grievances against the Catholic Church – say they will kill one Cardinal every hour beginning at 8pm. Then, at midnight, they plan to detonate the anti-matter, which will destroy Vatican City and level much of Rome.
Upon arriving at the Vatican, Langdon teams up with Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer), one of the scientists who had been working on the God particle and knows all about its dangers. Other characters that Langdon interacts with include Father Patrick McKenna (Ewan McGregor), who is basically in charge of things at the Vatican in the absence of a Pope; Cardinal Strauss (Armin Mueller-Stahl), who is overseeing the conclave for the election of a new Pope; and Swiss Guard Commander Richter (Stellan Skarsgård), who is head of security at the Vatican.
There are both good things and bad things about this movie, but one of the improvements over the first film is that the "ticking clock" aspect of the storyline keeps the action moving. Most of the events of this film take place during the course of just a handful of hours, which makes the pacing here much better than how things unfolded in 'The Da Vinci Code'. That said, once again, the character of Robert Langdon doesn't serve as a whole lot more than a tool to provide needed exposition. Also, despite his reflections on faith that took place at the end of the prior movie, here Langdon seems to come off as more agnostic – which doesn't seem to jive with the character of the original film.
But the worst thing about 'Angels & Demons' is when we finally find out who the bad guy is (honestly, it's not hard to figure out) and what his plans are. Given what he hoped to achieve, I can't think of a more convoluted, risky way to do it than what transpires in this movie. Not only must everything happen precisely according to his timeline, but he has to rely on other characters doing exactly what he hopes they'll do along the way. Add that to the fact that most viewers should be able to think of a half dozen less dangerous, less violent ways he could have achieved the exact same results, and 'Angel & Demons' whole plot seems to unravel. Characters don't act consistently either. For example, there's a hitman hired by the main villain who tries to kill Langdon in one scene and then - just a few scenes later - has him at gunpoint and lets him go.
Still, even with the flimsy plot, I'll admit to liking 'Angels & Demons' just a tad more than 'The Da Vinci Code', but the two movies are about the same in terms of quality – meaning if you liked the first one, you're probably going to like this one too...and if the first one wasn't your cup of tea, this movie's probably not going to taste any better.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Angels & Demons' descends to home video in this Ultra HD/Blu-ray/Digital HD combo pack. The two discs are housed inside a black keepcase, with two inserts inside – one containing a code for an UltraViolet copy of the movie, and the other a folded advertisement for 4K Ultra HD from Sony. A slipcover matching the artwork of the keepcase's slick slides overtop.
There are no front-loaded trailers on the 4K disc, whose main menu design is similar to other Sony releases, allowing the user to navigate through menu options, including 'Moments', 'Languages', 'Scenes', and 'Cast & Crew', as well as the main 'Feature' screen. The Blu-ray's main menu is a still image of Tom Hanks, with menu selections across the bottom of the screen. There are no front-loaded trailers on the Blu-ray either.
The Blu-ray in this release is region free, and of course, Ultra HD discs have no region coding.
'Angels & Demons' was shot on 35mm film, using a combination of Arricam LT, Arricam ST, Arriflex235, and Arriflex435 equipment (according to IMDB.com). The film is presented on home video in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Like the recent Ultra HD release of The Da Vinci Code, this new transfer is a from a 4K digital intermediate of the movie, and like 'The Da Vinci Code' transfer, this is a good looking upgrade that also suffers a bit during the movie's darker scenes.
Cinematographer Salvatore Totino seems to have a thing for dimly lit rooms, and that trend continues in 'Angels & Demons', although at least the first half of the movie isn't entirely set at night, which was the case with 'The Da Vinci Code'. Black levels are still fairly strong (but not inky deep), but details do suffer a bit in the darker sequences. On the other hand, once the action heads outdoors onto the streets of Rome, this 4K version looks really good, with details and definition quite apparant.
The biggest difference viewers will notice between the 4K and 1080p versions is the color boost provided by HDR. Red has always been (for my eyes at least) the primary color that gets the strongest noticeable upgrade with HDR, and given the fact that 'Angels & Demons' takes place in and around the Vatican, red is also the predominate color of this movie.
Overall, the quality here is about on par with the quality of 'The Da Vinci Code' 4K release, which is to say – very good, but not quite reference quality for a 4K image. Still, viewers are going to be hard pressed to find any major complaints about the transfer, which retains a natural film look with evident grain throughout.
The featured track here is an English Dolby Atmos one, which is Dolby TrueHD 7.1 compatible for those without an Atmos set-up. Although the track does feature some big and loud moments, like the "God particle" sequence in the opening moments and the helicopter scene towards the end of the movie, what I enjoyed most about the audio here was its frequent and fun directional use of ambient noises. There's a scene early in the movie when Langdon and company head into an old church looking for one of the kidnapped Cardinals, and the track uses the surrounds for some immersive playfulness as the characters hear little creaks and noises around them.
As I noted in my review of 'The Da Vinci Code' Ultra HD, 'Angels & Demons' original audio was (obviously) never designed for Atmos presentation, so considering that, it does a pretty good job of providing effective audio that still sounds natural to the events on screen, and not just newly manipulated for an Atmos presentation. In terms of dialogue, the majority is front and center, but it's nicely rendered with no muddiness or other problematic glitches.
In addition to the Atmos audio, the 4K disc also includes an English Audio Descriptive Service and 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks in French (Parisian), French (Quebec), German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish (Castilian), and Spanish (Latin American). Subtitles are available in English, English SDH, Chinese (Traditional), Czech, Danish, Dutch, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese (Brazilian), Portuguese (Classic), Romanian, Spanish (Castilian), Spanish (Latin American), Swedish, Thai, and Turkish.
Note: The 4K disc contains no bonus materials. All the bonus materials are contained on the Blu-ray disc.
This sequel to The Da Vinci Code suffers from many of the same issues that the original does, including long sequences of exposition by the main character. The villain's plot isn't very well thought out, either. However, thanks to a "ticking clock" structure which keeps the pace of the film going forward, I found myself liking 'Angels & Demons' just a little bit more than its predecessor. Recommended.