'Angels & Demons' heading to Rome

Controversy simmering over 'Da Vinci Code' follow-up

ROME -- After exposing a Church cover-up in "The Da Vinci Code," symbologist Robert Langdon returns to the big screen as an unlikely Vatican ally in the latest movie adaptation of a novel by author Dan Brown.

"Angels & Demons," again starring Tom Hanks as Langdon and directed by Ron Howard, premieres in Rome on Monday at a theater a mile away from Vatican City.

In the film, Langdon is recruited by the Vatican after the pope dies and four cardinals who are favorites to succeed him are kidnapped.

Langdon races through the "Eternal City" deciphering clues linked to a centuries-old secret society, the Illuminati.

"He is not the man the Vatican trusts -- he is the man the Vatican needs," Howard said in production notes for the movie.

Ewan McGregor plays the central role of the "Camerlengo," or chamberlain, who runs the Vatican between the time of the pope's death and the election of his successor.

"He sees himself as a man who will do whatever it takes to save the Church from the Illuminati and everything they represent," McGregor said.

The film hits theaters in the U.S. on May 15.

"Angels & Demons" has so far avoided the kind of broadside the Vatican aimed at "The Da Vinci Code" in 2005 and 2006 and the following year at "The Golden Compass" starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig.

"Dramatizing the issue involuntarily gives publicity to 'Angels & Demons,' " said Archbishop Velasio De Paolis, in an interview with Italy's La Stampa newspaper.

"Be careful not to play their game."

"The Da Vinci Code" upset the Vatican and some Catholics because of its story line, in which Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had children, creating a royal bloodline that Church officials kept secret for centuries.

Christians are taught that Jesus never married, was crucified and rose from the dead.

Despite the controversy, and a critical mauling at the Festival de Cannes, where it was launched, "Da Vinci Code" went on to gross more than $750 million worldwide, supporting the theory that no publicity is bad publicity.

However, the Rome archdiocese did refuse "Angels & Demons" the right to shoot in historic churches, forcing the crew to recreate them in Los Angeles.

And in the U.S., Bill Donahue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, accused Brown and Howard of "smearing the Catholic Church with fabulously bogus tales."

Howard responded by saying that neither he nor his new movie were anti-Catholic.

"And let me be a little controversial: I believe Catholics, including most in the hierarchy of the Church, will enjoy the movie for what it is: an exciting mystery, set in the awe-inspiring beauty of Rome," Howard wrote in a post on the Huffington Post.