Movie Mayhem – Inferno

I really enjoyed Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code when it first came out in 2003. The writing was solid, with interesting characters, an intriguing plot and an excellent mix of intrigue, exposition and action. When the movie adaptation was announced with Ron Howard and Tom Hanks teaming up once again, I was excited to see what the would do with it. Their vision didn’t disappoint, encapsulating everything that made the book enjoyable in two and a half hours. With the combined success of both the book and the film, a prequel (based on Brown’s original Robert Langdon novel, Angels and Demons) was quickly put into production. Since then, Brown has released two additional sequels in the Robert Langdon series, The Lost Symbol and Inferno, which, for some reason, was picked for adaptation before its predecessor. And because I did find Angels and Demons to be a decent thriller, my expectations were high for the third go around into the world of symbologist Robert Langdon.

Inferno — 2016; Directed by Ron Howard; Starring Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Omar Sy, Irrfan Khan, Sidse Babett Knudsen, and Ben Foster

Unfortunately, those expectations were dashed slightly as I watched this rote third installment. Taking a page out of the Hangover playbook, when the film opens, Robert Langdon (Hanks) wakes up in an Italian hospital with no memory of where he is and what happened over the previous 48 hours. He attempts to get answers from his doctor, Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), but all she knows, aside from who he is based upon meeting him at a symposium once as a child, is that he was dropped off by a cab driver. It isn’t long before a police woman comes to question him — or kill him. Quick on her feet, Sienna steals Langdon from the hospital and brings him to her apartment to begin putting the pieces of the amnesia puzzle together, starting with a tube that looks awfully like the neuralizer from Men In Black and an altered image from Dante’s poem, The Inferno.

Also on the hunt for Langdon are the World Health Organization, led by Elizabeth Sinskey (Sidse Babett Knudsen), for whom Langdon has a previous past, a WHO field agent (Omar Sy), who may also have his own agenda, and a clandestine group whose operations are housed on a transport ship. As Langdon and Sienna do all they can to evade capture at every turn, they learn that a friend and colleague has stolen Dante’s mask from a museum, and that he himself may have been injected with a virus that a conspiracy theorist (an underutilized Ben Foster) has created to reduce the world’s population.

Exciting right? Yet Hanks (and Howard, for that matter) sleepwalks his way through the first half of he film, and as clues start to add up and questions get answered, his enthusiasm continues to sink into a bewildered wasteland. I wouldn’t have ever thought I’d say that for Hanks or Howard, who are both multiple Oscar award-winning masters at their respective crafts, but both seem to be somewhat burnt out by the franchise, evident  in the repetitive nature of the style each presents.

Of course there’s going to be plenty of puzzles to solve and characters who aren’t what they seem, that’s the nature of the series. But with Inferno, there wasn’t anything fresh or new to add, and aside from Jones, who ends up being the only one who cared about what was happening, delivering a solid performance that kept me interested in the plot, every new clue, every new location, every new revelation turned out to be extraordinarily bland. It’s not because of the puzzle itself; the ideas presented are as strong as the previous films. However, the complexity of those puzzles and the way Langdon and Sienna are able to interpret them is far weaker and more convoluted than the ones previously explored. For all intents and purposes, they just aren’t as fun to solve alongside our protagonists, and for a film that’s based on this very thing, that’s a problem.

As is the supporting cast, who are also less intriguing than in any of the previous films. Paul Bettany’s Silas from The Da Vinci Code was a very intense, devout Catholic who struggled very much with his own inner demons that pushed him into regret and turmoil as he dug a deeper well into the horrors of his own sanity. There is nothing like that in Inferno, where all of the characters stall in one-note iterations of familiar stock characters — the conspirator, the gunman, the sexy female assassin, the corporate overlord and the straight-arrow operative.

Then there’s the underlying theory of how our population has multiplied so much over the last hundred years, and how if it keeps going the way it is, within fifty years, the world will be overrun by humans and extinction will inevitably occur because our resources will have been depleted. This concept, combined with the idea of Dante’s Inferno, are intriguing concepts in and of themselves, yet that underlying subtext is never explored to the extent that it could have been. It sits as a piece of information that continues to push the plot forward in different ways, but never gets its due for being its own major character in the film.

Neither Hanks nor Howard have a lot of experience in the sequel arena. Before Angels and Demons, Howard had never directed a sequel, and the only franchise Hanks was involved in was Toy Story. This penchant for finding original, fresh stories and characters is a hallmark for both, and based on their work in Inferno, sequel fatigue has definitely set in. It doesn’t feel as if either of them is all that much of a fan of the series anymore, and should probably call it quits, which might be hard knowing an adaptation of The Lost Symbol is in pre-production. But unless the screenplay by newcomer Danny Strong (the last two films having been written by David Koepp) is as genuine and exciting as The Da Vinci Code — allowing both Howard and Hanks to really sink their teeth into a fresh, new story — I wouldn’t blame them if they both moved on to more interesting and original projects.

My Grade: B

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Next week, new movies include Doctor Strange, Hacksaw Ridge and Trolls. If you would like to see a review for one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.

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