‘Inferno’ Much Smaller and Less Entertaining than ‘Da Vinci’
Ron Howard’s Inferno is undoubtedly the oddball of Dan Brown’s trilogy of book-to-film adaptations. Following in the footsteps of the controversial The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, Inferno maintains much of its notable puzzle mystery, while attempting to blaze its own path.
From the start, we get this sense that Inferno strays enough the formula of the previous two films. Famed Harvard symbologist, Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) wakes up in a Florentine hospital with amnesia. Even with no recollection of how he got there, all Langdon manages to recall are visions of a potential apocalypse. His doctor, Sienna Brooks (Rogue One’s Felicity Jones) informs him that he is suffering amnesia from a bullet wound. However, there’s no downtime for Langdon as he and Brooks are pursued by a mysterious assassin (Ana Ularu) across Florence.
Unlike the previous two installments, Langdon is immediately caught up in the elaborate plot. Days before Langdon’s injury, a billionaire geneticist, Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) killed himself before divulging information about his engineered virus, Inferno. Inferno was created to curb the exponential growth of overpopulation. Plus it’s intricately tied into Dante’s Divine Comedy of the same name. Several organizations including the World Health Organization and smaller rogue factions pursue Langdon, believing he has the key.
Howard’s Inferno plays to the same formulaic beats of the previous two films with a few minor differences. The biggest change is Langdon’s constant vulnerability. Hanks’ professor has always been at the top of his game, solving anagrams and complicated puzzles with ease. This time around, his character is less on his game, suffering from consistent head trauma. Though in Brooks’ apartment in Florence, he forgets the word coffee and recollects a minute detail that only he would know. Go figure.
With his drastic character changes, Hanks is less of an anchor for Inferno. Felicity Jones as Dr. Brooks has to carry much more of the weight of the film, despite the screenplay never giving her much to do. For most of the film, the new Rogue One lead is simply the generic female tag-along character. Omar Sy, Ben Foster and Irrfan Khan are equally average as the film’s antagonists.
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Inferno is certainly less complicated than its predecessors, bringing less memorable and complex puzzles to the table. Then again, being shy 20-30 minutes of both The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons cuts the narrative closer to the bone. Along its way, the epic scale has been toned back, offering an less distinctive installment. As ridiculously elaborate as the first two film were, they still managed to convey a hint of tension. Inferno plays more like a by-the-numbers ludicrous mystery. But if you need some moments of nostalgia along the way, Han Zimmer’s score does hearken back to The Da Vinci Code from time to time.
After tackling three Dan Brown novels, director Ron Howard still has an interest in the world of Robert Langdon. But somewhere along the way, Inferno still becomes the faltering third installment that so many other franchises couldn’t shake either. Howard’s been a mixed bag over the years, highlighting his career with A Beautiful Mind, Rush, Frost/Nixon and Apollo 13. But combined with David Koepp’s mediocre screenplay, we really aren’t invested in whether or not Inferno destroys humanity by the end of the film. By film three, the formula is utterly broken. Readers of the Brown novel might also be taken aback by the rewritten climax. The alteration does fit more along the lines of how the previous two films end. Still, changing this on-screen strips the source material of its more shocking twist.
Inferno doesn’t quite ignite as strong as The Da Vinci Code or Angels & Demons. And while we’re left with a duller treasure hunt across Europe, the Langdon franchise hasn’t reached its apocalypse just yet.