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Review: Inferno (2016)

Inferno (2016)

Directed by: Ron Howard

Premise: The third film based on the book series by Dan Brown. Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) awakes with amnesia in an Italian hospital. Pursued by assassins, he teams up with a medical doctor (Felicity Jones) to foil a plot to unleash a biological weapon. 

What Works: Inferno is the best of the movies in the Robert Langdon series. The first picture, 2006’s The Da Vinci Code, was a terrible, stodgy, pseudo-intellectual exercise in potboiler storytelling. The follow up, 2009’s Angels & Demons, was no less ridiculous but it was told in a brisker fashion and was much more successful as a piece of entertainment. Inferno bests the previous movies with a more interesting story and bigger stakes. In this picture Robert Langdon wakes up in the hospital of a foreign country without knowing how he got there and is thrown into an international conspiracy involving a biological weapon. Langdon and a medical doctor go on the run from assassins and government officials who may or may not be corrupt while attempting to piece together the clues. Inferno is less pretentious than the other Langdon adventures and it is more fun. If anything, this movie is reminiscent of Sean Connery and Roger Moore-era James Bond films. As silly as it can be, Inferno succeeds in being sufficiently thrilling entertainment with chases and action set pieces playing out against the European setting. As the Langdon film series has continued, each entry in the series has gotten shorter and that is due to more efficient storytelling. The Da Vinci Code was one of those novels that became an international phenomenon and the filmmakers seemed to have gotten in their head that they were making an “important” film and therefore told their story with sluggish self-importance. With Inferno, the filmmakers have come to realize that what they are really making is pulp entertainment and they embrace the absurdity and focus on the action and suspense. As a result, the picture is much more fun than either of its predecessors.

What Doesn’t: Although Inferno is a better film than either The Da Vinci Code or Angels & Demons, it is still stupid. The premises of all of the Robert Langdon stories are absurd but previous movies merged the character with the mystery in a way that made some internal sense. Langdon is an expert in depictions of religion in art and literature and his previous adventures found a way of integrating the setting and Langdon’s skill set into the mystery. Despite the way these stories oversimplified or distorted historical fact, the combination of art and history was at the core of the appeal of this franchise and set the Langdon stories apart from spy fiction and similar movies. But Inferno forces the link between Langdon’s expertise and the mystery. When he regains consciousness at the opening of the film, Langdon discovers that he is in possession of a modified version of Sandro Botticelli’s painting Map of Hell. There’s no real link between this piece of artwork and the evil scheme of the villain. It’s shoehorned into the plot to make the story fit the Langdon brand but the allusions don’t serve a purpose nor does Langdon himself actually use his skills in any meaningful way. In that respect, Inferno is a more generic thriller than the other movies in this series. That quality is apparent in the characters who are all underdeveloped. Especially squandered is the criminal mastermind, played by Ben Foster. He’s concerned about population growth and has created a biological weapon to cull the human herd. It’s an interesting idea but Foster’s character is dead before the plot even gets underway. The movie also includes a few plot twists but most of them are obvious or cliché or just ridiculous.

Bottom Line: Inferno is silly and it downplays some of the appeals of the Dan Brown series. Nevertheless, this film is much more entertaining than the other Dan Brown adaptations and it succeeds as a piece of fun action moviemaking.

Episode: #621 (November 13, 2016)