The third film in the Dan Brown adaptation series that already includes The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons sees Tom Hanks (Sully, A Hologram for the King) return to play main Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, who we find at the beginning of the story waking up with a head injury in a hospital in Florence, Italy. Langdon can’t remember how he got there, or much of anything else in recent memory, but someone apparently wants him dead, causing a hasty escape, with his British doctor, Sienna Brooks (Jones, True Story), who just so happens to be an avid fan of his scholarly books on secret codes, in tow. Soon enough, both of their skills at finding connections through great works of art and European history are put to use, from analysis of Boticelli paintings to new interpretations of Dante’s “Divine Comedy” (the first part of which the film derives its title), leading them on a race against time across the Mediterranean to thwart a secret society’s plan to launch a plague that will wipe out half of the Earth’s human population, ostensibly to prevent complete extinction.
The best parts of Inferno are really the best parts of the Langdon series as a whole, which comes from the scenic locales in and across Europe (Florence, Venice, Istanbul) as Langdon must search through museums and archives, while also running through the bustling city streets in order to elude bad guys out to stop their nosey pursuers at regular intervals within the film. While those who plan on trying to follow the very convoluted storyline will likely be frustrated, those who seek merely a bit of mildly escapist armchair tourism will find some of the breathtaking locale shots pleasant enough to soak in while the rest of the drama plays out according to methodical design. That’s a bit of irony, given that Dan Brown’s novels are the kinds of things you might read while waiting in an airport, perhaps while traveling to one of those luxurious locales.
The worst parts are, unfortunately, the formulaic nature of the plot itself, which plays out like a rote regurgitation of the non-action scenes of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade if injected with the basic storyline from Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys. It should come as little surprise to learn that David Koepp, who did similar work with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and the prior entry, Angels and Demons, provides the adaptation for the novel, earning the dubious distinction of being the attached screenwriter for the worst films in all three series. Director Ron Howard continues to make the films thus far bend far more toward dark and grisly, full of graphic, grotesque imagery and apocalyptic hallucinations, rather than occasionally light and fun in a way Hitchcock would have done so well, making the ride very unappealing along the way. When situations are humorless, and characters are flavorless, there’s really not much to entertain audiences given that the plot makes little sense, as well as the fact that we’ve seen it all before by this point in Langdon’s adventures.
Also, this series happens to be the three films in a sizable filmography in which a zoned-out Tom Hanks is a detraction from the overall enjoyment, imbuing Langdon with no personality traits worth admiring or connecting with, especially in how little chemistry, romantic or otherwise, he has had with any of the female characters that accompany him on his adventures. Felicity Jones does fine in a hollow role, but her character smacks of a plot twist waiting to happen from the first moment you learn that she is a puzzle genius as well, rendering any reveals that occur later in the film as ho-hum for those who are already two or three steps ahead of the game. Reveals are more eye-rollers than eye-openers.
Inferno is rarely good and occasionally god-awful, despite the immense talent brought together to make it, resulting in a middling, muddled work that will likely only be viewed in its entirety by completists of the series. Absurd plot developments piled high on one another in order to set Hanks and Jones in motion to run across gorgeous Italian piazzas and through posh museums isn’t enough to make a completely satisfying movie, alas. While “inferno” can be defined as a large fire that’s gone out of control, it’s ironic that the film that bears that name can’t even muster a spark of life within its very calculated narrative to distinguish it as anything other than an autopilot attempt to deliver expected goods for those still sticking around for a series that seemingly shot its wad as a worldwide phenomenon with The Da Vinci Code.
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, disturbing images, some language, thematic elements and brief sensuality
Running Time: 121 min.
Cast: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Omar Sy, Irfan Khan, Ben Foster, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Ana Ularu
Director: Ron Howard
Screenplay: David Koepp (based on the novel by Dan Brown)