Film review - Inferno: Welcome to the 10th circle of hell
A repetitive script with a boring lead character makes this sequel nothing to shout about
Published 15/10/2016 | 07:00
It might seem odd, even slightly offensive, that a writer as sublime as Dante Alighieri has inspired one as bad as Dan Brown, but that is the way of the world. Mr Brown's 2013 novel 'Inferno' was based in part on Dante's grandly sadistic descriptions of hell, and pitted his mild-mannered hero Dr Robert Langdon against yet another maniac hell-bent on teaching humanity a lesson. Like all his books, it sold like hot pancakes, and a movie adaptation was pretty much inevitable.
In Inferno, the dream team of Tom Hanks and Ron Howard, who really are too good for this stuff, return for their third adventure based on a Dan Brown yarn. Why? Because the first, 'Da Vinci Code' (2006) grossed almost $800 million, the second, 'Angels & Demons' (2009), made almost $500 million, and that kind of money is not to be sniffed at.
Dr Langdon has been aimlessly wandering Europe as usual, attending no doubt to vital symbology emergencies when he comes to in a strange hospital and has absolutely no idea what's going on. He's not feeling too well either, and a passing doctor called Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) tells him he's been attacked on the streets of Florence, and that a bullet has grazed his forehead, leaving him concussed.
He's just wondering whom he might have offended when an assassin disguised as a policewoman emerges from an elevator and starts shooting. Langdon and Dr Brooks escape and take refuge in her apartment, where he discovers a small plastic cylinder in his jacket bearing a yellow and black bio-hazard sign. Rashly, he opens it, and finds a medieval bone cylinder with a tiny hi-tech projector inside that beams out an image of Dante's Inferno.
It's Botticelli's tornado-like Map of Hell, displaying the various circles of eternal unpleasantness, but the painting has been modified, new sins have been added, and at the bottom is an inscription in English stating that 'the truth can only be glimpsed through the eyes of death'.
It's a puzzle, folks, set by a man called Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), a radical scientist who's been making dire predictions about global overpopulation and recently threw himself off the highest tower in Florence, but not before creating a virus that, if released, could wipe out half of humanity.
And so Langdon and Sienna must race against time to locate the viral bomb before it's unleashed, pursued across Europe and Asia Minor by a small army of well-wishers. It's the plot, in other words, of every other Dan Brown novel, full of heavy-handed cultural references, badly drawn supporting characters and the occasional blunderbuss attempt at humour.
The 'Da Vinci Code' movies are a bit like 'Indiana Jones' films with all the wit and warmth and adventure taken out: the first was awful, the second marginally less so, but this wearisome concoction might just be the worst of the lot.
Chief among its structural deficiencies is the absence of its villain, whose plan includes killing himself and thus appears only fleetingly, in flashback. In 'Da Vinci Code' we had Paul Bettany's mad monk, in 'Angels & Demons' Ewan McGregor's unhinged Irish priest, but in Inferno Dr Langdon spends most of his time chasing shadows, and solving arcane clues that seem drearily familiar.
In the books we're told that Langdon was raised Catholic but he seems like more of an Episcopalian to me, too prim and proper to cope with the mad rituals and theatre of the apostolic church. He's a bit of a bore in fact, so much so that even Tom Hanks struggles to make him believable. And Ron Howard, who's directed some fine films, has an equally difficult job getting this dull and repetitive storyline onto its feet.
There are compensations to be found among the film's supporting cast. Danish actress Sidse Babett Knudsen at last presents Dr Langdon with a vaguely age-appropriate love interest, and Irrfan Khan is very entertaining as the smooth-talking boss of a sinister secret society. But it's the actors, not the dreary screenplay, that give the characters life.
Films coming soon...
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders); I, Daniel Blake (Dave Johns, Hayley Squires); Trolls (Justin Timberlake, Anna Kendrick); Ouija: Origin of Evil (Elizabeth Basso); Queen of Katwe (David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong'o).