Cast: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Irrfan Khan, Ben Foster, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Omar Sy
Director: Ron Howard
Writer: David Koepp
He’s at it again. For the third time Robert Langdon is drawn into a crisis with global ramifications and only by solving a trail of riddles can he save the day. SSDD. That the Dan Brown thrillers have an allure to them is beyond doubt. I was so drawn in by the historical mysteries and artistic secrets featured in his stories as a teenager that I didn’t really notice that he wasn’t a particularly good writer. There is just something so utterly fascinating about discovering that an ancient, secretive organisation like the Opus Dei or the Illuminati could have these great secrets hidden in all of these iconic buildings and works of art. Even when I began to catch on to the absurd and convoluted nature of these stories, the Ron Howard films still did a pretty decent job of making those absurdities and convolutions entertaining. With Inferno though (based on the novel that I didn’t bother to read) it got tiring. I wasn’t thrilled or mystified this time; I was bored and confused.
Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), the Harvard professor of Symbology, wakes up in a hospital room with apocalyptic visions and no memory of the last few days. He discovers that the hospital is in Florence and Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) reveals that he is suffering from amnesia due to a bullet wound in the head. When the assassin Vayentha (Ana Ularu) enters guns blazing, the pair make their escape and try to work out what is happening. Among Langdon’s belongings is a small pointer that projects the image of Botticelli’s ‘Map of Hell’, based on Dante’s Inferno. This, they discover, is a clue left by Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), a billionaire geneticist who believes the Earth’s growing population spells humanity’s doom. Before committing suicide, Zobrist created a lethal virus called Inferno that could decimate the world’s population. Langon and Brooks decide that they must follow Zobrist’s trail and prevent the virus from being released. On their trail is Christoph Bouchard (Omar Sy), an agent of the World Health Organisation, Harry Sims (Irrfan Khan), the head of an organisation that is helping Zobrist with his mission, and Elizabeth Sinskey (Sidse Babett Knudsen), the head of WHO and an old flame of Langdon’s.
That was a convoluted summary to write. The film is just so relentless with the amount of information it dumps and the number of overlapping stories involved. Recounting the plot is a little like listening to a History professor as he drones on and on through an inexorable sequence of “and then… and then… and then…” No “but…” or “therefore…”, just “and then…” There is seldom a moment where a character isn’t running or explaining something or explaining something while running. This is true of The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons as well, but those movies at least had a sense of pacing and suspense about them. Also the second movie had a skydiving Pope, so there’s that. Here everything happens at such dizzying speed that nothing is allowed time to sink in. Before your mind has the time to work out what the Horses of Saint Mark have to do with anything, a big plot twist is revealed and then the characters are on their way to Istanbul. Who knew that a confused, anxious, amnesiac Langdon with a great big pain in his head could be such an appropriate surrogate for the audience?
Hanks (minus the mullet this time) does what he does with the usual amount of wit and charm. As Langdon he is simultaneously the smartest man in the room and the approachable everyman, a balance he pulls off like no one else can. Jones is the movie’s highlight though as she plays a plucky foil to Hanks while also matching him on an intellectual level. Her character follows a wholly ridiculous arc in this film but boy does she sell it. Foster, an actor who is usually excellent at disappearing into his roles, isn’t given enough screen-time or character to put his talents to use. All he does is spout ominous lines about the disease of humanity and the end times, the sort of lines that sound great in a trailer. Irrfan Khan however might be the only member of the cast who actually understands what a ridiculous movie he’s in. Playing the prim and proper leader of a secretive organisation who may or may not be the bad guy, he’s having the time of his life.
The film is dense and insane, but then so are the two previous films. This time however it’s just too much. The complicated puzzles, the leaps in logic, the haphazard twists and turns along the way; to quote a clueless emperor in his appraisal of a genius’ masterpiece, “there are simply too many notes”. Worst of all is the climax, an entirely incoherent mess both intellectually and visually. In the struggle that ensued I resigned myself to indifference, as I had no discernable way of telling who was who or who was winning. The production is pretty great, allowing us to see some neat sights including Il Duomo, St. Mark’s Basilica and the Hagia Sophia, so audiences looking to see more of Langdon’s trademark explorations of artworks and buildings will get their fill. What they won’t get is the gripping suspense of The Da Vinci Code or the enjoyable outlandishness of Angels & Demons. What they’ll get instead is two hours of excessive running and explanation, and they will exit the film knowing less than when they entered.