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‘Inferno’ Is Upon Hanks (Movie Review)

inferno thumbFollowing the sadly underseen Rush and the underwhelming In The Heart of the Sea, director Ron Howard returns to his moneymaking Robert Langdon film series with Inferno, based on the novel by Dan Brown. Tom Hanks is back too, continuing to portray his boorish, know-it-all character (although the hair is kept much more in check this time around). The result is another mystery thriller that, much like Angels & Demons, has learned from the mistakes of The Da Vinci Code and keeps things loose and moving, even if the proceedings are quite ridiculous.

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Following stories with stakes that threatened to destroy Christianity and the world as we know it, we are back with another adventure that finds professor Robert Langdon (Hanks) thrust into a plot that deals with creating a plague on earth. Due to an eccentric scientist’s (Ben Foster) plans to solve the world’s overpopulation problem through the most dramatic means possible, it will be up to Langdon and his newest sidekick, Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), to follow a series of clues revolving around Dante’s Inferno in an effort to stop whatever diabolical plan has been put into action. Various twists and turns ensue, which also involve various authority figures played by Omar Sy and Sidse Babett Knudsen, as well as assassins and other colorful characters played by Ana Ularu, a game Irrfan Khan and others.

Despite their wild success, this has not been a very good franchise. The Da Vinci Code is one of the worst major blockbusters in recent memory due to just how much of a slog that two and a half hour film was. To me, that makes it worse than even the most bloated Transformers film. Angels & Demons was a step up, as it threw out any attempts to seem prestigious and played like a crazy-violent procedural thriller, with race-against-the-clock stakes. That film is not “good”, but it was a lot more fun. Inferno is more in line with the sequel, although not quite as much fun. Both have some ridiculous story devices, but even while this film is shorter and gets to the point quicker, there is a lack of scope (among other things) that takes away from the world-ending stakes in play.

Made for nearly half the budget of the previous entry, while we see our heroes traveling to exotic locals and pointing at sites that should inspire plenty of educational vacations, the film feels pretty limited. Lots of shots taking place inside dark corridors and secret passages undercut the adventurous spirit of a film that moves to multiple cities and countries. Even the opening of the film is largely contained to Jones’ apartment. The money seems to have been largely spent on wild visions Langdon has in imagining what Inferno would look like, when applied to reality. It makes for a lot of great and horrific money shots (especially when it comes to ads for the film), but ultimately means little for the film’s sprawling and convoluted narrative.

Omar Sy

By comparison, as silly as the National Treasure films are, those did plenty to play fast on their feet, as Nic Cage and company traveled around America, making plenty of quips along the way, downplaying the darkness. Those films are not great either, but they have a grander presentation and a more enjoyable spirit. Were this a film that was less self-serious and more conscious of its inherent ridiculousness, perhaps it would be easy to look past Howard and cinematographer Salvatore Totino’s reliance on constant intense close-ups (not to mention the over-editing) to make it seem like a lot is happening.

There’s another issue here that has plagued this series from the start and its Hanks. There is nothing wrong with what Hanks is providing as a performer, but the character he is saddled with has just continued to irritate me. Coming from Dan Brown’s creation, writer David Koeep has likely done the best he can to adapt this character, but the general attitude of Langdon is one who knows more than you and is happy to make you aware of that. If anything, making Langdon suffer from amnesia and humbling him in the process is a worthwhile change of pace, but it is still hard to really care about this guy. There is also something to be said about making an action star out of a non-action friendly character, but much more praise goes to another actor.

Enter Irrfan Khan, a highlight of Jurassic World, thanks to a scene where he and B.D. Wong discuss the deeper themes of that film, while wearing well-tailored suits. Inferno gives Khan a similar edge, as he gets to play an exasperated figure with some of the most enjoyable moments stemming from dialogue-based scenes (and some action), while once again, wearing well-tailored suits. The other cast members have some fun as well. The Intouchables’ Sy continues to bring enough presence to features, despite his merely efficient efforts to make English work for him. Jones, meanwhile, is given enough to do that keeps her from feeling like a young add-on for Hanks to run around with.

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There could be praise given to Inferno for essentially making a lot of its plotting fool proof, thanks to an exposition-heavy third act. Without giving anything away, there are a number of choices made throughout this film that seem idiotic, only to have a great amount of reasoning explained later on. That doesn’t quite make up for the general silliness of the overall design of this film, but it is fun to see writers try to dig themselves out of holes. The only downside is having to listen to characters explain things, as there is no organic way to arrive at certain conclusions.

Inferno is by no means terrible and if there is a fondness out there for the Dan Brown novels or these Ron Howard films, it should be pleasing enough. Still, I have problems accepting a ridiculous story that has to slow itself down and explain things to me, especially when I don’t find the lead character all that compelling. The film gets credit for trying to have a sense of urgency, but looking cheap and not having much resonance doesn’t do much to help it out. The exclusion of religious-based controversial plot elements is a decent diversion, but that and other efforts to make something fresh out of this franchise only goes so far, when Howard would be much better off putting his talents elsewhere (such as his documentary, The Beatles: Eight Days a Week, currently in theaters).

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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