It is fair to say that Ron Howard’s movie adaptations of Dan Brown’s series of Robert Langdon novels have not been met with the warmth of the best literary-to-film transitions. The whole hoopla that surrounded The Da Vinci Code back in 2006 was as much down to the novel’s success and controversial reception as it was the aggrandized news stories of the film being banned and boycotted. In reality the movie was not much more than a good looking but drab star crammed Thriller. Then in 2009 Angels & Demons was less box office busting but still successful and actually a far more enjoyable affair. So now we arrive at Inferno, an adaptation of Brown’s fourth Langdon novel (2009’s The Lost Symbol is clearly getting missed out). So is this an enjoyable mystery or a whimpering end to this film series?
The story, we think, sees Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), awaken in hospital plagued by demonic and hellish visions with no memory as to how he got there, and not much later than he wakes - chatting with his knowledgeable doctor Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) - a gun-wielding individual attacks him. Something is afoot here and, alongside Brooks, Langdon must piece together what is happening, as he is drawn into a mysterious game that sees the future of 95% of the human race in jeopardy with the possible release of a deadly virus. We say “we think” at the beginning of all that because what is a simple virus/bomb plot Thriller is dressed up in so much ego massaging intellectual art speak it’s hard to say what it’s meant to be about.
Now, when this writer reviews a movie, they carry a notebook in a bag and, at the finish of the film, make a few initial notes. Usually these notes contain loads of positives, however when 2 listed positives for a film are “some decent hellish visions” and “Hanks’ hair was more sensible”, you know you are struggling. Inferno is just a load of exaggerated donkey dollops. Somewhere in this Euro-travelling Thriller there is an intriguing story about man’s ravaging of the globe but this is a film showered in loads of pretentiousness and ill fittingly barmy babble. The previous installments and their religious ideologies and hidden-within-art conspiracies may have divided opinion but had a meaning and purpose engrained in the respective stories, here however the art and culture themes are used to pad out a non-existent story and silly muddled concepts. There is nothing wrong with silly films but this is po-faced offering is presented entirely straight, as though it was a deep and well-layered tale. It isn’t.
There is no weight behind any idea; it is superficial, with the Dante drenched dialogue being pure dressing to flesh “let’s find the bomb” plotting. The script’s exposition is so forced, it is like this was written by one of those TV Quiz Show brainiacs who refuse to merely answer a question but feel compelled to give you an unrequested accompanying history lesson, just to enforce their cerebral dominance over you. The architecture, art and landmarks come and go and are merely a lovely backdrop to distract you from the intellectual bollocks you are sitting through. At times it feels like you are stranded in a tornado of European holiday postcards or just being twatted over the head with a copy of ‘1001 Galleries To Visit Before You Die’.
Hans Zimmer’s score is classy (with Dark Knight touches and a neat closing revamp of his fantastic 503 from the last film) and the opening 10 minutes have some visually interesting moments, and Irrfan Khan is good in a supporting role too. Aside from that, this Dan Brown blunder is just bafflingly overdone and full of logical missteps (sure Langdon’s a professor at Harvard but you are seriously telling us he knows EVERY secret passage in EVERY museum and EVERY person knows that he knows that?). Plus there is a twist that makes everything slot together even more awkwardly and leaves you questioning even more of the aforementioned holes. As the film progresses you just grow more uncertain of what the actual point being made here is or whether it is all just intellectual posturing, as the crew don’t really know themselves.
Tom Hanks is as watchable as ever though, even if he is given nothing to work with (even less in fact, than the previous movies in the series) – even the gags seem delivered with a stern footnote reminding you, like a stuffy lecturer, “That was a joke but remember this is serious stuff people”. Felicity Jones’ character is preposterous and Ben Foster is like a Bond villain drained of charisma. It is not the cast’s fault though, as even with the suspension of disbelief, this film simply does not work and the attempts at explaining away the scriptural and narrative gaps make it even sillier and just ridiculous to absorb in the compelling and deep manner it was clearly intended. Hell, even as dumb fun, this film abuses the privilege.
Perhaps knowledge of the book helps (admittedly this writer has not read it) but Inferno is just a barrage of pseudo-intellectual banter filling out a plot, a lot of running (and we mean a lot) and some suspiciously speedy commuting. Zimmer, Hanks and some nice visions of hell boost it by a star but we are really grasping at straws here in this mess. As soon as it finishes you continue to try and piece things together and even now, as we write this an hour or two after viewing, vital plot points or reveals (like any excitement) remain lost amidst the unstructured absurdity. Langdon spends a great deal of the movie struggling to remember anything but random sequences, people and ideas, all while suffering from bouts of crippling headaches, having watched the doltish Inferno we know how he feels.
INFERNO / CERT: 12A / DIRECTOR: RON HOWARD / SCREENPLAY: DAVID KOEPP / STARRING: TOM HANKS, FELICITY JONES, BEN FOSTER, OMAR SY, IRRFAN KHAN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Expected Rating: 5/10