Word of advice for anyone ever planning on becoming a villain: don’t waste time explaining your nefarious plot to your intended target; you will surely end up dead, and your plot will be foiled. That’s the way it always has been (at least in the movies), and if Inferno is any indicator, that’s the way it always will be.
In director Ron Howard’s adaptation of Dan Brown’s bestselling novel, the villains (actually, three different villains on three different occasions) spend so much time trying to explain what they’re up to (and incoherently, to boot) that you may just want to leap through the screen, put an end to all the pontificating, and carry out the dastardly destruction yourself.
As utterly frustrating as that is, though, it’s not Inferno’s biggest flaw. No, that dubious honor falls squarely on the shoulders of Howard, who is so wildly all over the place with Inferno that he fails on virtually every level. The man hasn’t made a decent feature film (not counting his recent Beatles documentary) since 2008’sFrost/Nixon, and it doesn’t look like his track record will improve anytime soon.
Tom Hanks is back for the third time (along with Howard) reprising his role as Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, a heady mix of Jason Bourne and Indiana Jones, only without the charisma or believability. After waking up from a concussion in an Italian hospital, he’s saved from a gun-toting assassin by his ER doc Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) only to discover he’s suffering from amnesia. He has no idea how he got to Italy, and his only clue is a doctored projection of Botticelli’s Map of Hell, which is based on Dante’s Inferno, which he finds in his pocket. Before long everyone from the World Health Organization to the local police are hot on his trail, and Langdon is forced to use his encyclopedic knowledge of art history to stop a madman from releasing an extinction-level plague on mankind.
The madman is Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), a billionaire obsessed with the world’s overpopulation problem. To help do his part he has planted a time-release plague, set to blow in 72 hours. Why not just go ahead and release it without the time delay, like a normal madman? Well, aside from the fact that it would completely jettison the plot of Brown’s novel, we have no idea. And screenwriter David Koepp (director of the 2015 bomb Mortdecai) doesn’t seem to know either, so instead we get two hours of circuitous palaver, all of which leads precisely nowhere.
At several points during Inferno, you can almost see Hanks and Jones wonder what they got themselves into, as they spout gravitas-laden bon mots like “Dante’s Inferno isn’t fiction, it’s a prophecy!” And as likeable as the two actors are, it’s painful to see them stuck in garbage like this. On the plus side, Irrfan Khan is a fun, scene-stealing bit of excellence as the leader of a private security firm also hunting Langdon. He’s so good, in fact, he deserves his own movie… so long as Howard doesn’t direct it, Koepp doesn’t write the screenplay, and it’s not based on a novel by Dan Brown.