Faith is the guiding principle behind Ron Howard’s second adaptation of a Dan Brown bestseller. Faith that this will match the $750 million worldwide gross of ‘The Da Vinci Code’ and they’ll all be in for lots of lovely Mammon. On this occasion, crisis hits the Vatican after the death of the Pope and the election of a new leader for the world’s billion Catholics. Four cardinals have been kidnapped, and worse still, a stashed-away vial of ultra-combustible anti-matter (stolen from the CERN labs in Switzerland) threatens to blow half of Rome to kingdom come. Enter Tom Hanks’s exposition-spouting symbologist to explain the historical basis and present implications of this attack from the self-styled ‘Illuminati’– men of Renaissance learning who went underground centuries ago after the Vatican moved against them, and are using modern technology to hit back.
The conflict between religion and science gestures towards thematic substance, but the film, unsurprisingly, takes a conciliatory line to give both sides of the argument their due. With only hours before the Vatican goes ka-boom! the story is pacy enough, despite the cast – Ewan McGregor’s peachy papal insider, grumpy Vatican security chief Stellan Skarsgård – needing to explain the plot every five minutes, while a miscast Hanks traces a string of conveniently planted clues and the clock ticks away. The re-creation of St Peter’s and the Sistine Chapel on the Hollywood backlot is a production achievement, yet the movie’s about as exciting as looking over someone’s shoulder while they finish a crossword.