Movie Review: Inferno

Inferno is the third in the series of films directed by Ron Howard

Directed by Ron Howard
With Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Omar Sy, Ben Foster, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Irrfan Khan

Fans of Dan Brown's novels and the films based on them know the drill by now. Renowned symbol expert Robert Langdon (played in the films by Tom Hanks) and a female sidekick have to race to solve a series of arcane puzzles to save the world.

Inferno is the third in the series of films directed by Ron Howard, following The Da Vinci Code from 2006 and Angels & Demons from 2009. The plot of Inferno is a bit more down to earth than the previous films, both of which filled with deep religious overtones, rather esoteric philosophical references and pulpy Templar and Illuminati conspiracies. A much more standard madman out to destroy the world to fulfill his own twisted vision of right and wrong is at the heart of Inferno. In a way, it is refreshing to get more action and less religious catechism.

The title of course is a reference to Dante, so it should be no surprise that much of the action takes place in Italy. Robert Langdon wakes up in a hospital with amnesia and disturbing visions. He does not know what country he is in or why he is there. Soon, he is on the run across Europe with Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones). This all has to do with billionaire Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), who preached online about the terrors of overpopulation devastating the planet.

The film is constructed as an almost non-stop chase, never giving the audience enough time to consider that the whole puzzle-solving affair is more than a bit contrived. There are also a couple of annoying red herrings and false clues that are meant to throw people off track. These are somewhat par for the course in a thriller of this type, so nobody should be fooled.

Langdon's amnesia somewhat limits Tom Hanks' effectiveness as a lead character. Thankfully, Felicity Jones, who was nominated for an Oscar for her work in The Theory of Everything, tags along and provides a strong female counterpart.

The villains are a little weaker this time, and that always hurts. Zobrist is seen largely in internet video clips. Some gunmen make sporadic appearances, with one in particular doing the standard relentless killing machine role.

As has become typical in Dan Brown plots, there is a duplicitous person somewhere, and the audience has to guess who it is. And there are of course the stereotypes that have been an ongoing issue in Brown's novels and the films. This film is no different, especially toward the end.

The puzzles themselves are a bit disappointing this time, feeling a bit more contrived than those in the previous films and books. These ones aren't ancient mysteries either, but rather more recent ones invented solely so their could be a plot.

What helps enormously though are the nightmare sequences of hellish visions that Langdon experiences, setting the tone for what is at stake in the film. Director Ron Howard also keeps the action moving at a fast pace, never getting bogged down in any one location for too long.

The film is reminiscent in a way of 1960s jet-setting films where characters have to make whirlwind tour of several countries, always winding up at key tourist attractions.

Overall, Inferno is a satisfying if rather forgettable cinematic joyride, boosted by a particularly good cast and director who together pull off rather routine doomsday material.

Ron Howard and his team skipped over the previous Dan Brown novel, The Lost Symbol, although they own the film rights. This was likely a wise choice. That novel was a bit claustrophobic, offering a very limited scope of travel around the US capital's monuments, even more stereotypes, and a rather lowbrow Masonic conspiracy that in the end was much ado about nothing.

Whether they will get back to it later remains to be seen, but Ron Howard's company, Imagine Entertainment, is set to adapt Digital Fortress as a TV series.

Dan Brown has his fair share of critics, and his response to them is they should read something else. The same can likely be said of the films. If you were among the legions who saw the previous two and loved the mix of travel, puzzles and historical references, this one offers more of the same is a fast-paced and colorful package.

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