‘Inferno’ A Divine Purgatory (FILM REVIEW)

[rating=5.00]

Inferno is the third film in the Robert Langdon series. Based on the fifth book, it follows 2009’s Angels & Demons, the second film, which was based on the first book that was later followed by The Da Vinci Code, which went on to become the first film in 2006. Each film was released with curious time periods between them: three years between Da Vinci and Angels; seven years between Angels and Inferno. Three and seven. If we factor in the numerical release order of the films vs the books, wherein two becomes one, one becomes two, and five becomes three, we notice a pattern that becomes so unmistakable that it’s difficult to understand why we never saw it before, which leads to a single irrefutable conclusion: this shit is boring, and pretty much meaningless.

Tom Hanks returns as the puzzle-obsessed Langdon. It’s a role that feels almost entirely suited for Hanks at this point in his career. Langdon is neither particularly standout nor memorable, though he may have seemed otherwise ten years ago. Rather, he just kind of…is. Motions are gone through, mysteries are solved, but there’s little about the character to set him apart from any number of academic adventurers that have graced the silver screen over the decades. Hanks doesn’t need to try too hard to pull it off, but Hanks no longer has to try too hard to do much of anything. That, I imagine, is one of the benefits of being Tom Hanks.

This outing finds Langdon waking up in Florence with a head injury, amnesia, and an assassin on his tail. With the help of his ER doctor Sienna (Felicity Jones) Langdon must figure out why he’s in Florence and why someone is hunting him, a journey that leads him to a vast conspiracy involving a billionaire overpopulation zealot (Ben Foster) and his nefarious plans to unleash a virus that could kill 50% of the world’s population.

As you might guess from the title, Inferno owes a debt to Dante. The poet plays a role here similar to Da Vinci in The Da Vinci Code, which is to say ultimately tangential while still feeling important. Author Dan Brown, creator of Robert Langdon, has a knack for infusing mystery into ancient subjects to create page turning thrillers that seem smarter than they are. At the very least, readers, who otherwise might never have read a single canto of Dante (or regarded a single work of Da Vinci’s outside “Mona Lisa”) get to have the illusion of culture without having to worry about being challenged in any meaningful way.

Purgatorio might have been the better title, however, given how staunchly middle of the road everything about it is. The plot is just good enough to keep you engrossed; Hanks gives his absolute minimum; director Ron Howard displays astounding competence without breaking any of his personal boundaries. It all converges into a storm of mediocrity that never quite finds itself tipping into either all bad or all good. It might not be terrible, but that’s about all it has going for it.

Were it not for the presence of Jones and Irrfan Khan, who plays the leader of a mysterious organization that looks after the interests of billionaires—a sort of illuminati security firm—there’s a fair chance that Inferno might have become the hell implied by its title. Though neither character is particularly memorable, they’re each saved thanks to the draw of the actors portraying them. Both Jones and Khan have an irresistible magnetism about them that demands your attention and commands your respect.

In the end though, whatever weight they bring to Inferno is balanced perfectly by the sheer mundanity of just about everything else the film has to offer. Fans of the Langdon books might enjoy the movie for what it is—though I hear tell they’ve changed the ending—but overall this is a film, and a series, that seems content with going through the motions. There’s nothing hidden between these lines and no code that need be cracked. The steam is gone, pure and simple. The talent involved might make it watchable, and there are probably worse ways to kill a couple of hours. If that’s enough for you then have it.

Inferno is now playing in theaters everywhere.

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