Directed by Ron Howard. Produced by Brian Grazer and Ron Howard. Written by David Koepp. Release date: October 28, 2016.
It’s at this point in the Adventures of Robert Langdon – as I hope any future home video box set will call it – that one has to wonder if the point has been lost. It’s ten years after The Da Vinci Code movie was released; we’ve moved on (and I liked The Da Vinci Code!). It feels like the only people who still care are director Ron Howard, star Tom Hanks, and novel writer Dan Brown, whose books serve as the source material for these movies. I guess international audiences still care, too, given how much money the last film made overseas, but I can’t say I’ve met a single person who was actively anticipating Inferno – especially since it’s coming out seven years after the last chapter.
Inferno once again stars Hanks as Professor Robert Langdon, someone who is really, really, really good at solving puzzles that nobody else can – puzzles that would-be criminals leave as clues because what fun is there in not getting caught? He wakes up at the start of this film with amnesia and in a Florence, Italy hospital. His doctor, Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), informs him that he’s been shot – the bullet just grazed his skull – and that he’s lucky to be alive.
Soon enough, a police officer comes to kill him. They escape and through contrivance find themselves in the middle of a time-sensitive quest that could potentially see half of humanity wiped off the planet. There’s a virus that’ll be unleashed in a few hours that, if not located, will create a plague which will cut our population in half. Why? Because of a theory by some billionaire (a waste of Ben Foster) who predicted that, if this doesn’t happen, our entire species will go extinct in a matter of years. So, here’s the choice he posits: suffer now and let the species continue or keep going on the path we’re on and be completely wiped out?
Interestingly, Inferno never actually makes a counter-point, or an alternative solution, to the real-world issue of overpopulation. But Langdon and his new doctor friend need to stop the virus anyway, because definitely killing 3.5 billion people is worse than potentially letting all 7+ billion die. There’s interesting philosophy to explore here, but the movie wants little to do with it. So, they run from place to place, discover a new clue, and then keep on running. They’re being chased by the police, the WHO, and a private security organization. Some are good, some are bad, and there are enough heel and face turns to ensure that you’ll never completely know who’s on whose side until the film tells you.
The world has moved on from Dan Brown novels; the movies should, too.
I should note at this point that it took three paragraphs to simply describe what happens in Inferno, and I haven’t even gotten to many of the twists and turns that the movie takes. It’s preposterous, contrived, overly convenient, and downright silly, and it’s probably best watched without trying to think too hard about where it’s going. I’m not saying it’s a “shut off your brain” movie, but trying to follow along with the plot isn’t beneficial to anyone. After all, you’re not as smart as Robert Langdon, so you couldn’t possibly figure it all out. In this universe, only he’s got the brain to solve all of these mysteries.
And beyond being really good at puzzles – and history (or faux-history), Langdon is a pretty bland character. Since he’s been the lead of three movies, he’s got a little meat to him, but nowhere near what you’d hope. There isn’t ever time for character moments – especially in the last two films – so Langdon remains far more of a bland entity than he should. None of the supporting characters matter because they all have to be kept so vague to shroud the audience from their true affiliations and motivations.
I think the best way to watch Inferno is to sit back and enjoy some of the sights that director Ron Howard takes you to. Appreciate the way that he puts you in the character’s state of mind near the beginning, with the frantic editing and cinematography, before slowing it down once he comes to his senses – not to mention the fractured visions of post-apocalyptia that get scattered throughout. Enjoy the acting, which is better than the constant run-and-expound dialogue and action deserve. Have fun laughing at the various character reveals, and poke fun at the ridiculous twists and turns in the plot. Almost none of Inferno makes sense; most of Dan Brown’s work doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. But Inferno does not work as a thriller or a mystery; it’s a history lecture delivered by a jogging-in-place amnesiac who thinks the only way to keep the class awake it to throw in dishonest and undeserved twists.
Bless Tom Hanks and Ron Howard for putting their energy into making these movies, but it’s time to stop. The world has moved on from Dan Brown novels; the movies should, too. At this point, calling the plot “preposterous” almost feels too kind – it’s contrived, convenient, and silly. The problem isn’t the direction and acting; it all comes down to this story, which doesn’t hold up. Enjoy the sightseeing tour, but forget about trying to make sense of the plot – either in the moment or afterward. Inferno isn’t worthless as a movie, but it is as a thriller.
Bottom Line: Preposterous to the point of incomprehensibility, Inferno is best viewed as a sightseeing tour and not as a mystery movie.
Recommendation: Only watch if you want to see people run around Italy.[rating=1.5]
If you want more of Matthew “Marter” Parkinson, you can follow him on the Twitter @Martertweet.