How do you make the fire and brimstone of The Divine Comedy, the cobbled streets of one of Italy’s most beautiful cities and the Renaissance all dull? Simple – get Ron Howard to direct yet another film based on one of Dan Brown’s air-headed adventures. This time we contend with Inferno, the third in the film series to date. It’s been seven years since we last saw Tom Hanks as the Mickey Mouse watch-wearing Prof Robert Langdon on the big screen and he hasn’t been missed. Now he’s back, a bit dazed and confused after a mysterious mugging, but still able to waltz into the world’s most famous galleries and museums unannounced.
This time Langdon isn’t after the scions of Christ or exposing an ancient cabal. Instead, he takes on the somewhat grander task of saving the world by preventing a modern-day Black Death from being unleashed on the populace by a megalomaniac billionaire (Ben Foster) with a penchant for the works of Dante Alighieri. The cast is impressive, boasting the reliable talents of Felicity Jones, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Omar Sy and Irrfan Khan (the saving grace of the film, and seemingly in on the joke). Then there is a robust, albeit jobbing, score from Hans Zimmer, accompanied by the beautiful back drops of Florence, Venice and Istanbul. Even so, this combination of factors can’t save the witless plotting, and sheer tedium of the source text, here somehow presented in an even more yawn-inducing way.
Like The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons before it, Inferno stumbles into the same pitfalls of convoluted plotting, kindergarten art history and conspiracy theories of the daytime-slot-on-the-Discovery-Channel sort. It’s all bundled into a paint-by-numbers format that seems to think anything above middle-brow is beyond an audience’s comprehension, so we had better explain everything. Ben Foster has been walking a tight rope of late with mainstream movie roles which, while they may pay the bills, do him a disservice as an actor. As the eccentric billionaire Bertrand Zobrist he is dramatically underused. He’s also lumped with TED Talk pseudo-rhetoric about how the overpopulation of the earth is a cancer upon the world, and therefore must be culled. His reasoning? Kill 50% of the population, and the result will be a second Renaissance.
Langdon is of course not alone on this adventure. He is joined by Dr Sienna Brooks (Jones) a doe-eyed aid who, for no initially fathomable reason, decides she will help Langdon on his quest to save the world from utter destruction. It has always been preposterous that a fuddy-duddy Harvard prof like Langdon could be a compelling hero. He’s the sort of character dreamt up in a garden shed by someone working in the Civil Service. Any comparisons to Indiana Jones are laughable, with the only saving grace of the character being Tom Hanks’ enduring appeal and charm that keeps him likeable – just. At least we can be grateful they skipped Brown’s actual third book, The Lost Symbol. It’s one less dusty dud to contend with.