INFERNO IS NOT THE CURE
Back in 2006, director Ron Howard (along with actor Tom Hanks) introduced a cinematic world of secret societies and an ancient mystery in The Da Vinci Code. Based on author Dan Brown’s global best-selling book of the same name, the movie followed Hank’s character of Professor Robert Langdon through a harrowing journey to uncover a hidden truth, an elusive mystery that’s fought between two warring arcane societies (Opus Dei and The Priory). The movie went on to become a box office success, but was met with mixed reviews from critics and moviegoers. In 2009, Howard and Hanks return to Dan Brown’s world in the movie Angels & Demons (again based on the book of the same name by Brown). Intended as a follow-up sequel to The Da Vinci Code (the book was presented as prequel to it), the film continues the adventure of Professor Langdon, following him on another life or death mission to uncover a plot within the Vatican (on the eve of chosen a new pope) and another secret society (The Illumati). Like, its predecessor, Angels & Demons was met with mixed reviews and a fairly large box office return (though a bit less than what The Da Vinci Code made). It’s been seven years since we last saw Hank’s Langdon and now, with Columbia Pictures and director Ron Howard, the famed professor returns to the silver screen with the film Inferno, an adaptation of Dan Brown’s recent novel. Is this third installment worth a glance or has the mystery (and time) of Brown’s cinematic “page to screen” representation waned over the passing years?
Waking up suddenly inside a hospital room in Florence, Italy, Professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) struggles with temporary amnesia, informed by Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) that a stray bullet grazed his head during a violent encounter the previous night. Desperately trying to recall why he’s in Italy, Robert is also plagued by shadowy apocalyptic visions of Hell that he can’t decipher. Soon chaos intrudes on the injured professor with a female assassin named Vayentha (Ana Ularu) sent to kill him, sending Robert and Sienna to escape from the hospital on a mission to figure out what’s going on. Out of danger, Robert comes into possession of a special Faraday Pointer, which projects an altered version of the Dante Alighieri’s famous “Map of Hell” painting, quickly becoming aware that this tied to a prophesized warning left behind the recently deceased billionaire geneticist Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster). Preaching to the masses of doomsday due to the world’s overpopulation, Bertrand’s scientific work to create an “Inferno Virus” intended to wipe out half of the planet’s people. Attempting to stop Zorbist’s doomsday plot from coming to fruition, Robert and Sienna follow a series of clues (via paintings and Dante’s death mask), traveling through Florence, Venice, and Istanbul and being chased by agents of the World Health Organization, including Agent Bouchard (Omar Sy) and Elizabeth Sinskey (Sidse Babett Knudsen), while also being pursed Vayentha’s organization, led by Harry Sims (Irrfan Khan).
THE GOOD / THE BAD
I can say that I’ve read all the Dan Brown / Robert Langdon books…well most of them anyway. I actually didn’t finish The Lost Symbol (I found it to be incredibly boring and hard for me to get into), so I put it down and read something else. I still haven’t picked it up to finish it. Maybe one day. As for the other ones, I read The Da Vinci Code first (prior to seeing the movie) and did the same with Angels & Demons (again prior to seeing the movie). As for the movies, I personally liked them. Yes, I know that they aren’t perfect, but I love to watch them. I meaning that ending of The Da Vinci Code, hearing Zimmer’s: Chevaliers de Sangreal” swell as Langdon kneels before the tomb of Mary Magdalene, is absolutely awesome! Love that scene the most. And as for adaptation of Angels & Demons, I thought it improved upon its predecessor, creating a more sense of urgency to the story in a “race against the clock” scenario as events unfold.
Now after several years of vanishing Robert Langdon returns in Inferno. In all honesty, I wasn’t too impressed by the first trailer (the teaser trailer) for Inferno, but was totally on-board with the film after seeing the second trailer (the theatrical trailer). I did read Dan Brown’s Inferno when it first came out in 2013, but my memory is a little hazy on the story (I did remember bits and pieces of it as I watched movie). Although, I did like the two previous movies, so my anticipation for the movie was elevated to see the movie. Unfortunately, my anticipation was not met as Howard’s Inferno, though somewhat entertaining, was an underwhelming follow-up sequel, making the feature my least favorite of the cinematic franchise.
With this movie being the third installment, director Ron Howard, known for directing such films as A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, and Far and Away, knowns the world of Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon, returning to their director’s chair for Inferno. Interestingly, instead of opening the film with Professor Langdon projecting collegiate confidence, pulled into an investigation by scrupulous police officials or biased religious representatives, Howard opens up Inferno with Langdon a quivering and shaken man, who battles with amnesia and haunted by hellish visions. This, of course, brings something to change up the status quo of Langdon’s newest adventure. In a similar fashion, the storyline of Inferno is a bit of a change up from the two previous installments (i.e. there’s no ancient secret societies or no hidden primordial revelation that (if revealed) will shock the world, etc.). Perhaps Ron Howard to wanted change things up a bit (narrative-wise) and decided to choose to adapt Inferno than The Lost Symbol.
In truth, Inferno has been more streamlined for those who complained about the first two features. Heavy exposition scenes have been trimmed down and the movie’s third act builds to a more dramatic / action oriented scene, something a bit different from its predecessors. Also, clocking in at roughly 2 hours long, Inferno is the shortest film of the Brown / Langdon adaptations. Like before, the production budget is a hefty one, allowing a vast array of set designs to be elaborate and expansive, utilizing the European cityscapes of Florence, Venice, and Istanbul to be a “cat and mouse” playground for the film’s characters to run around in, which is probably another reason why Howard elected to choose Inferno over The Lost Symbol. Still, like the past two films, Inferno offers a good film “travelogue” for viewers to explore through.
Despite those positives, Inferno falters and lacks what made the first two movies memorable (at least to me). First and foremost, like a lot of 2016 belated sequels, Inferno seems too late to its own popularity party. With a seven-year gap between Angels & Demons and this movie, a lot of the steam and the alluring taste for a Brown’s cinematic adaptation feature has run out, leaving the film feeling “blast from the past”, but in an unflattering way. Thus, it’s hard for followers / moviegoers to step back into line with Langdon’s adventures of solving clues, riddles, and mysteries in Inferno as too much time as passed to fully captivate on the fascination of a movie based on a Dan Brown book.
Additionally, while The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons both offered up a blending array of mystery suspense and history, Inferno seems to lack that intriguing narrative, relying solely on the knowledge of Dante Alighieri and his depiction of Hell (i.e. Dante’s Inferno) as the film’s main backdrop focal point. While Dante is an interesting figure, it’s not as powerful as Mary Magdalene or the Illumati. Because of this, Inferno’s narrative is a bit unimpressive and (to be truthful) a bit convoluted with a lot of misdirection and an incoherent structure playing through most of the first two acts. If I’m being honest, the movie just doesn’t have that extra “oomph” to it. It feels stale and a paint-by-numbers adventure for Howard to plug away at. The film’s script, which was adapted from Brown’s book by David Koepp (who previously adapted Angels & Demons), doesn’t offer a compelling / heartfelt overlaying theme to narrative, unlike the first two movies. Even its film’s ending, which usually cares a profound / resonating emotional impact, lacks and feels underwhelming. Basically, the movie just becomes a derivate to Howard’s past Brown / Langdon adaptations, but to a lesser degree. I reiterate again, Inferno just isn’t a strong cinematic adventure to completely engage you nor fall in love with.
Then there’s the apocalyptic vision that Langdon sees throughout the movie. While cryptic in nature and depicts the victims of Dante’s Hell, there a bit wonky and get overplayed, overstaying their welcome. I know it’s a part of the narrative, but it becomes a bit distracting. Coinciding with that, the character of Langdon (for most of the movie) is just acting and reacting to current events and trying to figure his amnesia (i.e. think of the Bourne Identity). While it does change up the narrative structure a bit, it makes the character a bit dull, offering little to his characterization. Like the film’s plot, the character becomes a bit stronger by the time the third act begins, but, at that point, it’s a slightly too late.
Given Howard’s continued return to the franchise, it wouldn’t be a Brown / Langdon film adaptation without actor Tom Hanks, reprising his role as protagonist symbologist Professor Robert Langdon. Hanks, who recently did a stellar job in his role as Captain Chesley Sullenberger in the movie Sully, settles back into the role that he first played back in 2006. Like before, Hank’s Langdon returns on the scene to save the world, solve puzzles, and hidden symbol through art and history. Unfortunately, while Hank’s on-screen presences / gravitas lends weight to the feature (and to the story), Inferno sees the actor doing less than in the previous movies. In the past, the character of Langdon has been referred to as a “dull protagonist”, but I did like him The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons. In Inferno, Hanks is still likeable, but there is a bit lacking in the character of Robert Langdon, feeling that the role is just too stale and doesn’t offer much personality to feature.
Like the previous narratives, Langdon solves complex riddles and mysteries with a young female traveling companion by his and does so in Inferno with actress Felicity Jones as Sienna Brooks. Jones’s Brooks is a bit more active female lead in the plot (more so than her female predecessors in past Brown / Langdon adventures) and gives her a backstory that effective and simple to follow. Unfortunately, while her on-screen time is noted, the character still serves as a plot device and her character’s evolution is only due to keep the narrative movie forward. Jones’s acting is fine in the film, but it’s not exactly her best nor memorable piece of work to date. However, she is beautiful to look at and I can’t wait to see her as Jyn Erso in the much anticipated Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
The supporting cast members in Inferno are (collectively) an impressive selection of international actor / actress, with most (if not all) are recognizable from their past projects. American actor Ben Foster, recently in the film High or High Water, plays the doomsday enthusiast billionaire Bertrand Zobrist, Danish actress Sidse Babett Knudsen, seeing on HBO’s new show Westworld, plays the head of the World Health Organization and Langdon’s old colleague familiar Elizabeth Sinskey, French actor Omar Sy, seeing in Jurassic World and Burnt, plays head of the SRS team Christoph Bouchard, and Indian actor (Sy’s Jurassic World) Irrfan Khan plays the head of the shadowy organization (dubbed “The Consortium”) Harry “The Provost” Sims. While these actors are talented and give what they can, the film only portrays them to be stock-like characters, fitting into place along the narrative’s path and nothing much else. Khan’s Sims is the only one that has memorable place in the feature, due to his character’s dark sense of humor and in Khan’s deliver of lines, helping to bring some form of levity to the proceedings.
Lastly (and this pains me to do this), I have to mention the musical score for the film. Composed by legendary composer Hans Zimmer, Inferno score, while fits, is woefully disappointed, especially because of its unimpressive arrangement by Zimmer himself. The score, which features more of an electronic vibe of pulsing heavy-synths that adds dramatic / suspenseful tension, is a complete departure from his involvement in the two previous installments, which had more orchestral-style music that swooned and swelled in some particular scenes. Basically, you’re not going to find any great pieces of music in this movie. Yes, Zimmer’s orchestral piece “Chevaliers de Sangreal” from The Da Vinci Code returns, but only plays at the beginning of the end credits. I know that this might not seeing just a big deal to some, but Zimmer, who was done great music in The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, just feels underwhelming in Inferno.
Professor Robert Langdon is back and it’s a race against time to thwart an apocalyptic event in the movie Inferno. Director Ron Howard’s third film adaptation of Dan Brown’s best-selling novels sees the return the infamous symbologist professor, delivering a more streamlined version for average moviegoers to enjoy and does impress with its international cast members. Unfortunately, the movie’s titular plot falls prey to numerous problems, including its convoluted narrative plot, to its thinly-sketched characters, and to its underwhelming excitement. To me, the film was okay (and a bit disappointing) as I had high hopes for this movie. It had its moments of being entertaining, but couldn’t elevate itself enough beyond the predecessor, making Inferno my least favorite of the three adapted movies. I know many have read the book and are curious to see the movie, so my recommendation for this feature is just to rent it on home medie (a lazy movie night rental) will suffice as there no need to rush to see it in theaters. For everyone, there’s no reason to see this movie, so skipping it is another possibility. While Dan Brown’s Inferno was celebrated in the literary world (selling over 6 million copies worldwide to date) Ron Howard’s Inferno is mediocre at best, producing a film that doesn’t quite resonate as strong as it could’ve been. To reconfirm this, check out my fellow blogger Lee Brady at Big Picture Reviews to see what he thought of Inferno. Hopefully, if another Brown / Langdon adaption is commissioned, that Howard returns the franchise’s roots or (maybe) that the studio execs decide to seek another director to helm the project.
2.6 Out of 5 (Rent It / Skip It)
Released On: October 28th, 2016
Reviewed On: October 29th, 2016
Inferno is rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, disturbing images, some language, thematic elements and brief sensuality