DVD Release Date:  November 24, 2009
Theatrical Release Date:  May 15, 2009
Rating:  PG-13 (for sequences of violence, disturbing images and thematic material)
Genre:  Action/Adventure
Run Time:  138 min.
Director:  Ron Howard
Actors:  Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer, Stellan Skarsgard, Pierfrancesco Favino, Nikolaj Lie Kass, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Thure Lindhardt

Hardly a Christian in America is unfamiliar with author Dan Brown and the controversy surrounding his book The Da Vinci Code. An entire cottage industry of materials sprung up among authors and ministry leaders refuting the book's, and subsequent movie's, suspect theological claims.

Most notably, The Da Vinci Code purports to reveal from a host of suspect sources proof that Jesus Christ was not widely considered divine until the fourth century after his death, that Mary Magdalene was married to Jesus and bore his child, and that early church leaders left out parts of the Bible (the Gnostic Gospels) whose "facts" disputed their ideas about the nature of Christ and Christianity.

Now comes the movie version of the prequel to The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons. In the film, the story is rewritten to follow the events of The Da Vinci Code. Christians are perhaps not unjustified in expecting this prequel/sequel to deal with our faith in a heavy-handed fashion. But it does not.

If not for the fact that the story was originally written by the now infamous Dan Brown, Christians would be flocking to this movie.  Angels & Demons not only portrays Christianity in a positive light, it has some thoughtful things to say about the apparent ageless conflicts between faith and science.

In our story, the Pope has just died and the Cardinals of the Catholic Church are assembling in Rome to elect a new Holy Father. Before proceedings get underway, four of the Cardinals—the most likely candidates for the job—are kidnapped by a secretive brotherhood of historically anti-Catholic scientists called the Illuminati. These Illuminati have been nursing a grudge against the church for hundreds of years, due to the violent persecution that church leadership imposed on their ranks in centuries past.

Thus, in a move of desperation the Vatican reaches out to Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), the protagonist of The Da Vinci Code who posited the wacky theological and historical conspiracy of the first film, garnering an understandable bit of ire from Catholic leaders. But Langdon is an authority on the Illuminati and may be their only hope to rescuing the missing Cardinals, so an uneasy truce is formed as this agnostic academic hops a private jet to Rome.

Upon arrival, Langdon discovers that in addition to the kidnappings, the Illuminati have stolen the bright shining pride of science, a newly created energy source called "anti-matter," and have hidden it somewhere in Vatican City. This secret society, whose members seem to have a strong sense of irony, are looking to use this new technology to turn the Vatican and the thousands of Church faithful assembled in St. Peter's Square to witness the election of the new Pope, into a mushroom cloud.

The setup here is tailor made for discussion about the apparent conflicts between faith and science. This new science that has the power to do so much good is being used for evil. What is incredibly refreshing about Angels & Demons, is the many times characters pause to consider this conflict and offer thoughtful reflection—and in most instances, viewers are left with the feeling that faith and Christianity are inherently positive forces in the world. At one point a priest and assistant (Ewan McGregor) of the deceased Pope gives an impassioned speech to the assembled Cardinals imploring them to stand firm and declare that the Church seeks the truth, and the truth does not conflict with science. We don't ask scientists to stop their work, he says. We ask them to slow down and consider the moral implications of their new powers.

What the film did not contain was any of the wacky theology of The Da Vinci Code. It's almost as if the filmmakers, criticized for undermining Christianity in the last Dan Brown story, decided to go above and beyond in their positive portrayal of faith. Langdon takes his lumps like a man as he endures the skepticism of Catholic characters, who are predisposed to dislike him. But there is an overall graciousness in these exchanges as both sides share the same goal of the lives of those in peril.

Of course, Angels & Demons is in many respects your typical over-the-top summer action movie. Don't check your "suspension of disbelief" at the door. Overall a much smoother and better directed film than The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons includes all the typical intense and suspenseful chases, gun fights, and explosions that delight the popcorn-munching masses. Perhaps a bit overly violent, it will make the squeamish squirm a bit.

Despite this, the film's tone is commendable. At one point Cardinal Strauss (Armin Mueller-Stahl) a key player in Vatican politics whose motivation Langdon has had reason to question, tells the intellectual, "I believe God sent you here to save us, Dr. Langdon." Langdon politely responds that he does not believe that's true. This reaction invokes a knowing smile from the Cardinal who responds, "That doesn't matter, God sent you to save us." It is one poignant moment in this commendable film set up with many moving statements and conversations about the Christian faith. Angels & Demons is a great reminder to Christians that nuggets of truth, help in times of distress, often come to us from the oddest of places.

CAUTIONS:

  • Language/Profanity:  A handful of profanities scattered throughout the film.
  • Sex/Nudity:  None.
  • Drugs/Alcohol:  None. Some smoking.
  • Violence:  Victims of the assassin are dispatched in rather gruesome ways, both on screen and off, pushing the limits of the PG-13 rating. We see the aftermath of a man who is shot in the head and has his eye ripped out. One is burnt alive; another is drowned. Men are several times branded with hot iron. Some horrific and bloody wounds are shown on both living people and corpses. A great deal of gun play often resulting in deaths.