Directed by Ron Howard. Starring Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Omar Sy, Ben Foster, Irrfan Khan, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Ana Ularu, Björn Freiberg, Attila Árpa. Written by David Koepp, from the novel by Dan Brown.
Tom Hanks returns as Harvard Professor Robert Langdon in director Ron Howard’s new puzzle-box thriller Inferno, fourth in the series of Dan Brown novels but third to hit the screen following The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons.
Brown’s Langdon novels are spectacularly silly, but unapologetic page-turners that should by all means translate to one thing: dumb fun on the big screen courtesy of top Hollywood talent.
But The Da Vinci Code, in the eyes of many (including me), was a big misstep that took the source material far too seriously and ended up a deadly-dull translation of the book that induced boredom rather than suspense.
Angels and Demons, on the other hand, was faster and looser and seemed to embrace to nuttiness of its source material. It was a lot more entertaining than the first film, if not exactly high art.
And now here’s Inferno, which rates somewhere in-between its two predecessors. It’s relatively light and fast-paced, but feels strangely uninteresting and underplotted. The result is a creeping sense of tedium after a slam-bang opening that eventually overwhelms the movie by the perfunctory finale.
This time around, Hanks’ Langdon is on the trail of Betrand Zobrist (a surprisingly restrained Ben Foster), a conspiracy theorist who envisions the end of times and plots to release a dirty bomb to wipe out half of the population in order to eventually save humanity.
Zobrist has killed himself by the time Inferno opens, but he’s left a trail of clues for the Harvard professor to follow, in order to either activate the dirty bomb or disarm it, for reasons that are frustratingly obscure throughout most of the movie.
That’s because the film picks up halfway through Langdon’s hunt, after the professor has been given a nasty bump on the head that has conveniently induced short-term amnesia. When he wakes up in a Florence hospital attended to a nurse played by Felicity Jones, he has no memory of the past two days.
He knows he’s been looking for something related to Dante’s vision of Hell in Inferno – thanks to a “Faraday pointer” in his jacket pocket that contains an illustration – but he has no idea what, or why. To make matters worse, the Italian police, the World Health Organization, and a mysterious organization working for the deceased Zobrist are all on his trail. Some with the intent to kill.
The mystery in the first half of Inferno is finding out exactly what Langdon is after. But instead of getting to that through clues hidden in famous works of art – the gimmick of the previous films that this one only glosses over – here’s how Inferno unwraps the puzzle: Langdon gets a headache, a memory comes back via flashback at just the right time, and oh no! That good guy is actually a bad guy and we need to go there rather than here.
Inferno is entirely watchable, especially during the first half, as Langdon and Jones run around Florence trying to sort out what’s going on, and we expect (perhaps foolheartedly) that a satisfying answer awaits us at the end.
And the supporting cast, as in the previous two movies, is a top consortium of international talent: Irrfan Khan (Jurassic World), as the head of the mysterious corporation, and Omar Sy (The Intouchables) & Sidse Babett Knudsen (The Duke of Burgundy and TV’s Borgen) as WHO agents, all lend the proceedings some gravitas that it probably doesn’t deserve.
But once all the pieces have been connected – and frankly, there aren’t all that many – the whole enterprise fails to make any sense. Zobrist’s plan – so “foolproof” that he kills himself before he can see it through – is frustratingly illogical and convoluted. The dirty bomb has already been placed; why go through this mess of a maze to set it off?
Brown’s novels are silly timewasters, but there’s a right way to bring that kind of thing to the big screen. Inferno is more akin to director Howard’s Da Vinci Code than to Angels and Demons, but if you’re a fan of this franchise it’s probably enough to satisfy.