Inferno Review

Inferno is similar to Ron Howard‘s past Dan Brown adaptations, The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons. Again, there’s top-tier talent both in front of and behind the camera, but the final result doesn’t reach the level of quality we typically expect from Howard and Tom Hanks. Their latest collaboration is held back by some tedious exposition, repetitive foot chases, some underwhelming twists and turns, and one sorely underused talented actor.

Howard’s movie begins with promise, by stripping Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) of his greatest asset: his mind. The brilliant Harvard professor and symbologist awakens in a hospital with a terrible headache and no memory of the past three days. Doctor Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) informs the professor a bullet grazing his head caused the trauma, which is causing him to see some genuinely ghastly visions of hell on earth. A weakened Langdon is forced to go on the run when an assassin, Vayentha (Ana Ularu), storms into the Florence hospital and tries to kill him. Also after the professor are the head of the World Health Organization, Elizabeth Sinskey (Sidse Babett Knudsen), and the head of an SRS team, Christoph Bouchard (Omar Sy).

Brooks, a longtime fan of Langdon’s, takes the professor back to her place and tries to help him regain his memory. In his belongings, Langdon finds a clue — a Faraday pointer that projects an image of Sandro Botticelli’s Map of Hell, based on Dante’s Inferno. Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), who dies at the beginning of the film, altered the map, leaving clues to his doomsday device. Zobrist is a filthy rich and radical geneticist who says overpopulation will lead to our extinction. The madman has taken it upon himself to create a virus, called “Inferno,” that’ll wipe out half of the human race. Langdon and Brooks have to follow all of Zobrist’s counterproductive clues to prevent “Inferno” from going off.

Howard and screenwriter David Koepp attempt to make Inferno a race against time movie, but because of all the pit stops, there’s no consistent suspense. Whenever Langdon and Brooks reach a new, exotic location, waiting for them is usually more exposition. In some cases, there’s another foot chase or some brief physical altercation, but most of the time it seems like Langdon and Brooks are running, driving, or going by train to a new location to hear more exposition.

There’s rarely a sense of urgency or danger in Inferno, despite all the foot chases shot and edited with freneticism. Even in the third act, when things are most dire, the story comes to a grinding halt. On a plane, we again see more of the YouTube video of Zobrist laying out his motivations, and then we see a flashback, and then we get a pleasant, telling but ultimately throwaway moment with Langdon. There’s no suspense before the possible apocalypse or any excitement before Langon might save the day. Howard’s film slowly builds to its finale, which is well staged and not without some thrills, thanks to some fun supporting characters taking on more prominent roles.

The side characters — Vayentha, Zobrist, and the head of a shadowy organization, Harry Sims (Irrfan Khan) — are what breathe the most life into Inferno. They’re the kind of charismatic side characters that leave you wanting more, with one major exception. Ben Foster is mostly underutilized, and it’s a shame the trailers and TV spots spoiled his character’s chillingly shot death scene; the use of sound when characters fall to their deaths in this movie is unnerving. Not spoiling the villain’s demise wouldn’t have made his thin role any less disappointing, but if you hadn’t read the source material, it could’ve been made for a great moment at the theaters — seeing a prominent actor killed off at the start of a film.

Zobrist leaves a lot to be desired. It’s not like Inferno needs a present puppet master, but the character’s plans are ridiculously convoluted. Inferno asks the audience to suspend a lot of disbelief, but in one scene Langdon even appears to point out why a choice of his is ludicrous (“That makes sense, right?” Langdon asks). Howard doesn’t provide enough excitement to mask the film’s often contrived plotting and leaps in logic, but once you know more about Zobrist’s doomsday scheme, and how it was planned, it is a head-scratcher.

What’s strange and particularly unsatisfying about Inferno is, you’d figure a director as heartfelt as Howard would present a world you’d want to see saved. To be fair, there are some attempts at making this sequel more personal and more optimistic about the world. These scenes, especially between Hanks and Knudsen, are convincing and well-acted (and it’s always lovely to see a starry-eyed, smiling Tom Hanks), but they come at the detriment of the film’s pacing. Despite featuring Tom Hanks’ most charming performance as Langdon, Inferno is another uninvolving thriller about the character.

/Film Rating: 4 out of 10

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