Editor’s Notes: Inferno opens in wide theatrical release, today October 27th.
We might be here all day, but let’s try this one more, hopefully last time: Who among you – not including, of course studio executives and members of the production crew or their families – asked for, let alone, demanded another entry in the Robert Langdon franchise? Between middling (The Da Vinci Code) to underwhelming efforts (Angels & Demons), there really wasn’t a need to revisit Langdon a full decade after The Da Vinci Code made an unsurprisingly successful jump from airplane read to multiplex offering. But where’s IP (intellectual property), studios will find a way, regardless if whether the once favorable conditions for guaranteed box-office success remain in place, to exploit said IP. But moviegoers age out, interests change, sometimes even evolve, and an overabundance of entertainment options outside multiplexes (e.g., TV, streaming, videogames), chances are this is the last we’ll see of Langdon doing his walking and talking (or sometimes jogging and talking) thing, making leaps of logic across credulity-straining plot contrivances, city-hopping across Europe, once again saving the world and reaffirming the status patriarchal quo (i.e., In Langdon – and representatives of masculinity like him – we trust).
No one’s ever accused writer Dan Brown of originality, a point underlined by an opening scene filled with clichés that belong in the middle of the last century . . .
No one’s ever accused writer Dan Brown of originality, a point underlined by an opening scene filled with clichés that belong in the middle of the last century, not the second decade of the new one: Langdon (Tom Hanks, delivering a master class in furrowed brow acting) awakens in a Florence hospital, his head aching from a bullet fired in his general direction (it’s just a flesh wound, thankfully). He’s dazed, confused, and missing the last 48 hours. As his extremely helpful, British-born doctor, Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), informs Langdon, he’s suffering from temporary retrograde amnesia, the result of his head wound. He doesn’t remember how he got to Florence or why he hopped a plane, but before he can get an answer, an assassin pretending to be a cop, Vayentha (Ana Ularu), makes an appearance, killing another doctor and sending Langdon, still in his hospital gown, and his newfound guardian angel and soon-to-be compatriot in puzzle solving, Sienna, scampering for the exits and a conveniently waiting taxi outside the hospital.
If, as the saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt, then it’s difficult, if not impossible, to feel anything but contempt for Inferno.
They make good their escape, of course. Sienna and Langdon head for her nearby apartment where he cleans himself up, puts on a fresh pair of slacks, dress shirt, and suit jacket, and begin tackling the potential “extinction-level-event” at the center of Inferno: The plague to end all plagues, a bioengineered plague created by one Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), a misguided billionaire obsessed with overpopulation, environmental degradation, and resource scarcity. Zobrist’s solution, a man-made virus that will wipe out half the human population, is just this side of radical and sufficiently alarming to bring the WHO (World Health Organization) into the picture. Aware of Zobrist’s plans, the WHO – here depicted as a heavily armed, militarized arm of the New World Order (NWO), aka the UN and its not-so-secret plan for world domination – sends one of Langdon’s exes, Elizabeth Sinskey (Sidse Babett Knudsen), and a French rep, Christoph Bouchard (Omar Sy), to track down Zobrist’s mega-virus, with Langdon characteristically caught in the middle.
The obligatory race-against-time occurs when Langdon realizes that the mega-virus has been not only stored somewhere in Europe, but set to go off at a predetermined time. With Sienna, a Langdon fan-girl, as his aide and ally, not to mention convenient exposition magnet, Langdon kick-starts the search thanks to a small metal cylinder he finds in his pocket. It contains a map, a visualization of Dante’s Inferno. On the surface, it looks like every other depiction of Dante’s Inferno, but it also contains several important clues to the whereabouts of the mega-virus. The search takes Langdon and Sienna from the palaces and museums of Florence to the palaces and museums of Vienna and the palaces and museums of Istanbul. All the while, the WHO, Vayentha, and Vayentha’s mysterious boss, Harry Sims (Irrfan Khan), remain in close, occasionally hot pursuit. Lest we forget Dan Brown wrote Inferno, the second half turns on hidden agendas, role reversals, and a surprise (not so surprising) villain/heel turn, evidence (as if additional evidence was needed), of Brown’s formulaic, template-driven storytelling style.
If, as the saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt, then it’s difficult, if not impossible, to feel anything but contempt for Inferno. Returning for the third entry, Ron Howard (In the Heart of the Sea, Rush, A Beautiful Mind, Ransom, Apollo 13) delivers the usual combination of no-style, competent, ultimately anonymous filmmaking that’s made him a relatively popular, mainstream filmmaker, but there’s little here that doesn’t feel soulless, a product made for mass consumption with only commerce, not art or anything approaching art in mind. Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with slick, undemanding entertainment. The operative word here, however, is “entertainment.” In that one, basic respect, Inferno all but fails. Everything about Inferno feels second- or third-rate (because it is), endlessly regurgitating tired, trite ideas and narrative circumlocutions, never escaping the overwhelming feeling or sense that Inferno was made purely out of obligation, made because contracts were signed long ago, actors wanted/needed work, and the studio needed to fill an open weekend on its fall schedule.
Everything about Inferno feels second- or third-rate (because it is), endlessly regurgitating tired, trite ideas and narrative circumlocutions, never escaping the overwhelming feeling or sense that Inferno was made purely out of obligation, made because contracts were signed long ago, actors wanted/needed work, and the studio needed to fill an open weekend on its fall schedule.