“Midway along the journey of our life, I woke to find myself in a dark cinema, for my attention had wandered off the plot. Also, did Tom Hanks need the money so much that he agreed to be in this movie?”
If Dante Alighieri, author of the more enduring Inferno, had instead written a review of the movie version of Dan Brown’s Inferno, his first line might sound something like that. For this film, based on the 2013 bestseller, is a watchable if rather forgettable run-of-the-mill thriller. It has a couple of nice performances, but nothing much else going for it.
So anyway, Inferno is the sequel to The Da Vinci Code and Angels And Demons, and sees Hanks reprising his role as Robert Langdon, the most famous symbologist since … well, ever. The movie begins with him in a hospital in Florence, his memory mysteriously missing. Langdon soon discovers there are assassins after him, and must remember what happened to him if he wants to survive.
In other words, the film feels as if a bunch of art historians got together and decided to create a dramatic remake of The Hangover. Amnesia is already a very tired film trope, and here, it is employed in the most plot-convenient manner possible. Langdon is unable to remember current events or beverage names, but can recall ancient historical details when it is necessary to move the plot along.
Brown’s books have often been criticised for being formulaic, and by the movie’s second act, it becomes evidently clear that the only purpose of this memory loss is to add suspense to an otherwise dull plot.
So, back to the story. Langdon meets the beautiful doctor Sienna Brooks (Jones) and the two discover a strange plot carried out by the rogue scientist Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), who believes that overpopulation will ultimately cause the doom of the world. And so, he has developed a dangerous method to deal with this … one that will cause mass deaths.
Stopping Zobrist’s plans require the two to play a deadly game, where they must unlock cryptic riddles based on Dante’s Inferno, the first part of his epic poem Divine Comedy. Watching this, however, is neither divine or comedic. It’s Langdon and partner travelling to exotic locales and outrunning bad guys while studying historical references, aka What Happens in Every Dan Brown Movie Ever.
And why are these mad geniuses always obsessed with ancient art from centuries ago? Why can’t we have a movie about a psychopath with more contemporary obsessions, with Langdon having to decipher mysteries hidden in the albums of Britney Spears? The Pikachu Codex … now that’s a movie people would watch!
That said, Inferno is not a bad film. It has some nice moments, and there is an interesting twist in the middle that really elevates it (although it will come as no surprise to people who have read the book). Its main problem is that nothing about it stands out.
It is ironic that one of its themes is the dangers of overpopulation, because Inferno sufferes from exactly that: in a world populated with the Taken and Mission: Impossible and Jason Bourne films, Inferno feels like a less exciting version of these action thrillers.
The main appeal of Dan Brown films has always been their “historical conspiracy” angle, but even that is diminished in this film. The antagonist of Inferno is not a keeper of ancient secrets but a modern-day psychopath, and even Dante is not as integral to the plot as you may think he is. This really makes the film feel a bit hollow.
There’s no need, though, to completely abandon hope, all ye who enter here. Fans of the book will probably rejoice as the film is remarkably faithful to the original story. Hanks’s hairstyle is not as ridiculous here as compared to previous films, and there are some nice foreign locales (like Istanbul and Venice) and beautiful art.
The most beautiful work of art in the film, however, is Jones, who not only looks gorgeous, but delivers a memorable performance, turning a disposable Bond-girl-of-the-moment role into a more compelling character. Everyone else is rather lacklustre, with even solid performers like Hanks and Khan appearing to just phone in their performances.
Inferno is, thankfully, not a hellish experience, but it is not a very heavenly one either. If this is your first Dan Brown film, you might enjoy it. If not, stick to the far superior earlier entries in the franchise.
For a movie filled with complex puzzles, the biggest mystery about Inferno is why filmmakers keep making movie sequels that no one asked for.