You have Brian Byrd to blame for that title.
Following the inexplicable profitability both in print and film of the previous two entries in this interminable franchise, Inferno continues the lazily written adventures of Robert Langdon, symbologist and cultivator of horrific hair. As is usually the case, the story involves an intricate string of obscure puzzles grounded in the art of old school Europe. Because as everyone knows, true evil may not monologue but is in fact required to provide an out in the form of a Renaissance scavenger hunt.
So Tom Hanks wakes up with amnesia and a new haircut (the best part of Inferno is that they retired Langdon’s hate crime of a hair piece from the first two movies) in a Florence hospital. Felicity Jones is his doctor and just as she gives him a raging clue, assassins happen, as they are wont to do when professors wake up with bullet wounds and memory loss next to Jyn Erso in a hospital in an historic European city. As a professor myself, I assure you: twice per year, like clockwork. Such is the price we pay to dream of tenure.
Ben Foster is the bad guy with bad guy plans. He gives a bunch of TED talks about how humans are a disease and he is the cure. Like, there’s going to be 32 billion people by 2050, bro, it’s our duty to wipe out half of them to save the rest. Sweet zombie Malthus, you think a tech billionaire who somehow can also singlehandedly design Captain Trips (two totally overlapping skill sets) would know how to do the Google enough to know that the population is only projected to hit 9 billion by 2050. I know basic facts aren’t a Dan Brown story’s strong suit, but I like numbers more than people so their abuse somehow offends me as much as when a movie kills a dog.
Naturally instead of just releasing his virus, he provides a series of puzzles hidden in Dante-related stuff so that his girlfriend can find the virus. And make sure it’s released by finding it ahead of the authorities who would have no way of finding it without the scavenger hunt? Look, just don’t think about any of it all. This is a literary oeuvre that also gave us albino priest assassins, orgies of Jesus’ secret descendants, and Obi-Wan trying to become pope by parachuting out of a helicopter just ahead of the Vatican’s warp core breaching.
When you write down the insanity that happens in Dan Brown novels and their half-hearted adaptations to film, it’s really incredible just how boring and tedious they actually are in practice.
Anyway, it’s an idiotic movie with a plot that disintegrates under the most cursory examination (the trademark of Dan Brown’s stories is that their central conflict would be solved with a single cell phone call in the opening scene). It pads out the running time with twenty twists that progressively make everything more incoherent rather than snapping previous events into focus the way a good twist does. Dan Brown takes full advantage of the demographic that conflates writing that’s confusing because it’s bullshit with writing that’s confusing because it’s brilliant.
Tom Hanks is distressingly good though and refuses to simply phone in the performance so that he can get out of wardrobe and to the museums. There are many moments of character interaction when he is simply in a far better movie than anyone around him, helped out by oddly nuanced writing whenever the movie drifts away from its moronic plot. For instance, in a throw away moment when he wakes in the hospital, Hanks says that he has no one for the doctors to call, and when Jones presses “surely there must be someone”, he responds with a tortured “why? Why does there have to be someone?” that mixes such raw pain and broken anger that for a moment you forget the rest of the apocalyptically stupid movie.
Indeed, I spent most of the run time trying to figure out why Ron Howard and Tom Hanks keep making these things. I mean, yeah, money. But the two of them could just as easily make bank doing decent movies, right? Because they have, repeatedly, and with each other. Phrasing? Boom.
Howard and Hanks took one look at the script for The Da Vinci Code, rolled their eyes and started to toss it in the trash (not the recycling, because a script that bad infects the soul of the paper, and recycling would only allow the cycle of dull stupidity to repeat). And then they realized that they could hang out in Paris for four months, with the industrial machine of Hollywood clearing out every museum and historical site for their own personal viewings. Couple of years later they hit the Vatican. And now they’ve angled for Florence and Venice.
But don’t judge them too harshly. Adam Sandler’s entire career for the last fifteen years has been making movies as an excuse to hang out while screwing around with his friends. The difference is that Sandler is so dully unambitious that he uses that leverage to hang out at his house or a fucking water park. At least Howard and Hanks use it to tour the great sites of Europe.
Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here.