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Movie Review: #Inferno

Can Tom Hanks and Ron Howard resurrect Robert Langdon in Inferno?

Review by Matt Cummings

For a film series that inexplicably took seven years off, Dan Brown's controversial The da Vinci Code franchise - if it could be labeled that - it's assumed that the newest entry Inferno would come at us full of codes, history, and deep conspiracies. Unfortunately, we get a muddled mess that diminishes the main character's cryptographic genius and reminds us of a world that seems eerily similar to Brown's.

Harvard professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) awakens in an Italian hospital with amnesia and deep cut on his head, prone to fits of horrifying visions about an oncoming apocalypse filled with historical themes and deadly characters. But before he gain his senses, he's instantly the target of a shadowy organization, forcing Doctor Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) to assist with his escape. Langdon soon realizes that his possession of an ancient painting is a prelude to discovering the whereabouts of a devastating virus called Inferno. Created by billionaire Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), Inferno is the answer to the world's overpopulation and its ignorance of the effect on the planet. Forced into yet another game of code breaking and historical re-interpretation, Langdon must battle his unwinding mental health to discover Inferno's location before a population purge larger than The Black Death can be unleashed.

If The da Vinci Code and (to a different degree) Angels and Demons excelled in their establishment of this slightly-twisted universe, Inferno should have been nothing less than an emphatic pronouncement of its glorious past. Instead, we're force-fed a tour of historical European religious interest spots, only to be told, "This isn't the right place!" with a sudden departure to another ancient city, and so on. This happens more than once, with very little puzzle solving to elevate the strictly thriller/action aspects. Sure, the visuals are slick and Langdon's nightmares are frightening, but there's nothing beneath the surface. It's as if the dark cloud that's enveloped our divided society has also managed to poison the script by David Koepp's screenplay before one moment of it was shot. But that imagery of Hell come to life is impressive, including Langdon's other visions, and it's a saving grace to what's a jumbled story and a totally different ending than the book.

Unlike Marvel's Captain America Civil War, which took liberties with the source material to craft a mesmerizing experience, Inferno barely keeps our attention and axes a potentially terrific ending that Brown originally concocted with one that cheats the source material. If Brown's desire was to bend Church and historical fact to electrifying heights, Inferno never gets off the ground. Koepp's script ignores past films - even though Inferno is the latest - never referencing either of Langdon's potentially miracle acts. In a time when audiences expect to see newer movies in a series bridge to other older ones, Inferno does a pretty poor job.

After three films, Hanks effortlessly gifts Langdon with a bit of Indiana Jones and Benjamin Gates, creating an agreeable historical drink. To the series' strength, Hanks has never lost sight of this conflicted genius, but Inferno doesn't give him much of a soul to play with, and even the emotive Hanks (who delivered a memorable ending in da Vinci) is forced into a reactionary corner for most of Inferno . After a strong start, Jones sees her character decline as well, becoming nothing more than a radical who sees violent change as the only way to bring an end to overpopulation. Her intentions are never satisfyingly resolved, and neither is her complicity. Somehow, Foster has never quite held the mainstream lens as effectvely as his more independent roles (see X-Men: The Last Stand). Here, Zobrist is poorly drawn: he's nothing more than a sociopath who sees wholesale slaughter in purely black and white terms, spewing rhetoric that seems as a unethical and familiar as those playing in our current political environment. It's hard not to see the comparisons emerge, although I'm sure Director Ron Howard could not have foreseen them.

Howard, who's admitted in recent years of his desire to direct in relative safely, has thankfully emerged from that, delivering a thrillride in Rush and at several points a frightening edge in Inferno. But he never pushes the acting in the way he graced da Vinci or even Angels and Demons. He' grown as a director, but with the dud In the Heart of the Sea only a year ago, it seems like the director of Apollo 13 (another Hanks vehicle) has hit a genuine slump. Composer Hans Zimmer reworks his passionate da Vinci Code orchestrations, modifying them into the electronic realm with some interesting background elements. But just like the film itself, we're compelled to point out much better efforts from the past year. Brown's books feed on our desire for the controversial and the conspiratorial, but it now seems as if we're living in his world. Perhaps that's why things feel so complacent here, as if nothing in his books isn't something we haven't already seen.

In the end, Inferno misses the point about the stories surrounding some of our most ancient cities, choosing to move Langdon from one city to another without giving us much time to enjoy his acumen. The side story with Elizabeth Sinskey (Sidse Babett Knudsen) is only moderately charming and actually forces us to consider Langdon the Lover in the most haphazard way possible. That doesn't make for good theater, especially when our story is meant to challenge our mind instead of making us wonder why we wasted 2 hours on this incoherent mess. Inferno might be the last Brown film for awhile - certainly with Hanks - as it feels like the franchise needs to consider its place in a world that seems more like the books that garnered Brown so much attention.

Inferno is rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, disturbing images, some language, thematic elements and brief sensuality and has a runtime of 121 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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