Tom Hanks is back for another Robert Langdon adventure, but Inferno is significantly dumber and duller than previous instalments.
Dan Brown, one of the bestselling authors in the history of publishing, is a good storyteller, but a terrible writer. Every sentence in his books follows more-or-less the same template, as do his plots, but his first two Robert Langdon novels- Angels & Demons and The DaVinci Code– are nonetheless brilliantly enjoyable works of blockbuster silliness, as are Ron Howard’s successful adaptations. Brown, sadly, has lost his flare: The Lost Symbol was so bad, Howard decided not to adapt it at all, and 2014’s Inferno is an appalling piece of literature. It would make sense for Howard and screenwriter David Koepp to totally rework Inferno for cinema: injecting it with additional plot and a more complex mystery, akin to its franchise predecessors. Yet they have made no such effort. Inferno the film is just as dull, dumb and colourless as its source material.
Every Robert Langdon adventure begins with Tom Hanks’ Harvard symbologist (that’s not a word!) waking up, but in Inferno there’s an exciting twist: he wakes up in a Florence hospital bed with no memory of how he got there. Accompanying him once again is a Thirtysomething European Woman: on this occasion, Felicity Jones as Dr. Sienna Brooks. Plagued by hallucinatory visions of plague and apocalypse (some of the worst sequences Howard has ever directed), Langdon soon discovers a Divine Comedy-inspired scheme of purge humanity’s population. The threat in this film is topical, but overly generic: terrorism and overpopulation are not themes specific to the Langdon world, and the lack of religious and art history (the series’ signature traits) is enormously disappointing.
Identically structured to Inferno the novel, Howard’s film consists of 90 minutes of tiresome running as Langdon and Brooks evade their pursuers, and 30 minutes of actual action when the “Inferno” threatens to be unleashed. The script is abysmal, but not amusingly so. Were it not for Hanks’ reliable presence, there would be little to enjoy. But Hanks is here, trying his best to elevate the material to- at the very least- the standard of 2009’s Angels & Demons. Jones and fellow supporting players Irrfan Khan and Ben Foster are equally impressive; it’s sad to see a talented cast struggle with such stupid dialogue.
The final act may be the film’s most entertaining, but it’s also distinctly incoherent and implausible. Implausibility, it must be said, isn’t a huge problem in a franchise that previously gave us a Pope parachuting into Vatican City. The Langdon films were never half as enjoyable as the National Treasure series; perhaps a dud like Inferno was indeed inevitable. For those of us unlucky enough to have read the book, it certainly was. There’s a clue we could’ve cracked earlier.