Ron Howard’s Inferno is a less-interesting National Treasure that continues a dull parade of 2016 dad-thrillers (The Accountant/Jack Reacher: Never Go Back) that waste bolstered casts (Tom Hanks/Felicity Jones) and/or previous successes. It’s the third Da Vinci Code movie adaptation (second sequel), coming seven years long after 2009’s Angels & Demons. Not sure who was clamoring for another one of these, but here it is!
More secret agencies and philosophical theories, more old white dudes trying to solve mysteries, more country-jumping as a wanted criminal – you know the routine by now, and unfortunately, it’s not getting any better. Only diehard Hankies (how I classify Tom Hanks fans) should heed Metallica’s words and jump in the fire (FI-YAH, technically), while the rest of us go watch SNL’s far-superior David S. Pumpkin sketch twenty more times to get our T-Hanks fix.
Professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is back to solve another international riddle, but this time without his memory. Langdon wakes up in an Italian hospital to be greeted by Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), and shortly thereafter, a gun-firing assassin. Brooks escorts her patient to safety, where Langdon discovers a map of Dante’s Nine Circles Of Hell and begins his doomsday-prevention quest across Europe. Some wealthy prophet (Bertrand Zobrist, played by Ben Foster) wants to eliminate half of Earth’s population (for its own good), and Langdon has only a matter of days before Zobrist’s virus goes worldwide. It’s a race against time riddled with sophistication and debate, where even the slightest hiccup could mean the deaths of millions. High stakes adventuring, anyone?
Shades of Renaissance hellishness paint an apocalyptic picture for Robert Langdon, as Howard’s most engaging work comes whenever hallucinations engulf European cities in a fiery dystopia. The story is that Langdon suffered a massive head trauma, and one side-effect happens to be visual illusions. In reality, Langdon is merely walking down a busy street – but internally, he’s seeing Dante’s inferno come to life. Twisted heads on contorted bodies waltz by, while legs stick up from the Earth and brimstone rises. Blood rushes down carved streets, painting quite the personal Hell for Langdon early on (and only then). Then, as Langdon comes-to, the visions cease, and demonic forms are traded for sunny Turkish countrysides.
Lame – take me back to Hell!
Aside from Dante’s influence, Inferno is your average historian adventure that panders to audience understanding. If you ever find yourself lost, don’t fret – characters will explain plot points every few minutes or so through flashbacks. David Koepp’s screenplay comes from film school’s Spoonfeeding 101 class, where plotting has to take a breather every few minutes to catch viewers up. Why are we on a train to Istanbul? Just listen to “X” character recap the film’s entirety, and never worry about working details out! Of course, this also handcuffs momentum whenever Langdon takes a quick explanation break, forcing audiences to play dumb given how simple a quest Zobrist’s imagination dreams up (all things considered). There might possibly be more flashbacks than in-the-moment cinematics throughout Inferno, which coats Howard’s vision in a dense layer of blurry haziness.
Hanks will always draw attention with any role, but there’s no spark left in Robert Langdon. Most of the time, Hanks is trying to regain his memory and follow Zobrist’s literary breadcrumb trail. Confident, fact-spewing Langdon doesn’t appear until about halfway through Howard’s sluggish intercontinental chase, pitted against a treacherous Omar Sy and an unexplained hitwoman played by Ana Ularu. Felicity Jones keeps up with Langdon’s mental sparring as Sienna Brooks, while Ben Foster waxes on about how pain inspires change (like some demented millennial supervillain). Irrfan Khan shows up and livens the party with his cool-guy private security persona, but a stammering Hanks and terse Jones don’t conjure much by way of chemistry in the meantime. Star power lost in the shuffle of anarchistic revolt…
Inferno is murky, exposition-heavy boredom that never grabs the devil by the horns. Ron Howard’s shaky focus makes for action and suspense without much investment, while actors spend half their performances regurgitating information we’ve heard twenty times already. No part of me wants to bash a Tom Hanks film, but you’ll have to find your Dante-inspired thrills somewhere else this October – hopefully in a product not dependent on exhausted franchise hopes built on barebones genre generics.
Inferno feels every bit like the second sequel in an exhausted franchise, stunted by unfocused storytelling and a blandness that's almost sleep-inducing.