A decade ago I saw at the cinema the film version Dan Brown’s book ‘The Da Vinci Code’. Highly anticipated due to the success of the book, the film was considered a disappointment by many (although a big box-office hit) although I enjoyed it for what it was. While it never reached a level of profundity it perhaps desired, in terms of a throwaway mystery it was satisfying, with the mysteries worked out by main character Robert Langdon quite fun and the history and scenery of old Europe giving it a cultural aspect unusual in Hollywood big-budget films.
I didn’t see the 2009 followup ‘Angels And Demons’ and hadn’t really given any recent thought to any of the Dan Brown books/films, but because of circumstances I had the chance to see the third film in the series Inferno’ last night at the cinema and took it, hoping that would provide the same level of entertainment that The Da Vinci Code did. Alas, it was not to be.
The film dives right into the action with Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) awaking in an Italian hospital having suffered injuries and amnesia after being apparently attacked. Still groggy, he is rushed out of his hospital room by the doctor taking care of him (Felicity Jones) when an assassin attempts to kill him. Eventually it becomes clear it’s all associated with a plot by wealthy geneticist Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) to severely reduce the world’s population. But how can Langdon save the day, not only still unwell but with everything especially as most things aren’t what they seem?
Among the many things ‘Inferno’ gets wrong, probably its biggest one is forgetting how Langdon’s using his historical knowledge of ancient culture and artefacts to work out mysteries and provide knowledge was the most entertaining aspect of TDVC. We do get occasional mystery solving and bits of knowledge (you do learn where the word ‘quarantine’ comes from) but far too little.
And what we get instead isn’t impressive. Director Ron Howard – perhaps trying to compensate for the thinness of the material – frantically overdirects the film’s many action scenes and endless horror nightmares using every cinematic trick he knows. But instead of these scenes being exciting, the action scenes feel incoherent and uninteresting and the nightmare scenes are so overhyped they almost descend into parody territory. In his desire to make the film cutting-edge, Howard makes the film and his own directorial style seem distinctly old-hat.
Indeed a lot of this film seems to be based around things that would’ve been considered clichéd generations ago, starting with the central character having amnesia… an amnesia that of course that doesn’t impact the plot when required.
Even in minor details the film feels hackneyed. Whenever the film moves to a different location, we not only get the name of the city displayed but the time displayed. If the film made use of its race-against-the-clock concept it might be of value, but instead it almost feels like something you’d see in an Abrahams/Zucker film. And of course whenever a character uses the Internet or play a YouTube it occurs instally just as it never does in real life.
Also, we see a scene where there’s video evidence of Langdon stealing a precious artefact (Langdon can’t remember due to his memory) and I’m still not clear how this was resolved. As well, would a geneticist like Zoborist really be a billionaire?
There aren’t many positives to be had from ‘Inferno’. Irrfan Khan is enjoyable as a mysterious high-level security operative, the film gets a bit more interesting in the closing 25 minutes once a revelation is made about a major character and the scenery of various European cities is lovely to look at on the big screen.
But overall, just about everything about ‘Inferno’ seems tired, uninspired and dreary; even Tom Hanks can’t do much to save it. In the lengthy career of Ron Howard, this would have to go down as one of his weakest directorial efforts.