I briefly considered just re-posting my Angels & Demons review and changing the names and titles for Inferno, which would be fitting since that’s apparently how author Dan Brown approaches writing. The third Robert Langdon movie is the same garbage we’ve been subjected to twice now, and director Ron Howard’s only solution is to make the scenery as pretty as possible. While Inferno might have some people planning vacations to Florence, there has to be a better way of capturing the Italian city than by having Langdon run around and solve dumb puzzles in service of a nonsensical story. I understand that Langdon became an international phenomenon with The Da Vinci Code in the mid-2000s, but maybe it’s time we accept that the character and his adventures have been and will always be a complete waste of time.
This time around, Langdon (Tom Hanks) is suffering from a bit of amnesia. He wakes up in an Italian hospital under the care of Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), but before he can get his bearings a mysterious assassin (Ana Ularu) posing as police officer tries to kill them. They escape back to Sienna’s apartment where Langdon discovers that he’s holding a clue related to Dante’s Inferno and the threat of a global plague created by billionaire bioengineer Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster). Zobrist was obsessed with overpopulation, and he believes that by killing half the world’s population, he can save humanity from destroying itself in a hundred years. Langdon and Brooks try to follow the clues and find the Inferno virus before it’s unleashed. However, they don’t know who to trust as they’re being pursued by World Health Organization operatives Christoph Bouchard (Omar Sy) and Elizabeth Sinskey (Sidse Babett Knudsen).
Let’s start off with the idiocy of Zobrist’s plan. Earlier in the film, we’re treated to Zobrist giving a speech where he explains that the Earth’s population keeps doubling at an exponential rate. He notes that in 1970, the population was four billion people, and today, it’s eight billion. So let’s assume that Zobrist’s plan works, and the Inferno virus is released. That knocks the Earth’s population back down to four billion, thus killing off half of the human race so that they can survive for another forty years.
Now, you can argue that Zobrist is insane and therefore his plan isn’t subject to scrutiny, but the real-world stakes are important for a movie like this. We know Langdon isn’t going to die and that that the virus isn’t going to be unleashed, so the best thing Inferno could have done to keep us interested would be to have us try and sympathize with its villain’s point of view. Just because he’s insane, that doesn’t mean he has to be a moron, and we’re told that Zobrist is a genius.
If Howard and screenwriter David Koepp wanted to hammer home the point that Zobrist may be on to something, then maybe instead of sending Langdon and Sienna around to museums and churches, they could have gone on a journey that showed the dangers of overpopulation. The film could have taken us to see gut-wrenching poverty and starvation. It could show us the hell on Earth that Zobrist sees, and while we may not agree with his solution, we could at least have some interesting ambivalence about the real-world issue he presents.
But Inferno, like Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code is far too lazy and stupid for that. Instead, it goes through the same tedious motions, and this time around the reasoning makes even less sense. At least in Da Vinci Code, you could argue that the clues exist because those that left them behind wanted the answer to be found. The treasure hunt in Inferno makes far less sense.
So it turns out that Sienna was actually Zobrist’s lover, and at the end of the second act she ditches Langdon to fly to Istanbul where she can set off the Inferno virus. If she was necessary to set off the virus, then why didn’t Zobrist just tell her the location of Inferno in the first place? Because he wanted her to work for it, which makes no sense if your goal is to save the world. Either unleash your virus as quickly and effectively as possible, or don’t. But don’t make your entire plan contingent on your girlfriend tricking a symbologist into deciphering bullshit clues so that she can pull the trigger on your evil scheme.
Inferno is so poorly plotted that I’m amazed no one stopped and said, “Hey, we’re doing a terrible job of explaining things. Let’s back up to see if we can figure this out.” For example, at one point we see Langdon and Sienna watching security footage at a museum where Langdon and his pal/Dante expert Ignazio Busoni (Gábor Urmai) steal Dante’s death mask by taking it out of its display case and hiding it in Langdon’s jacket (the audience at my screening cracked up during this scene). Langdon, suffering from amnesia, has no memory of this, which is fine, but the movie never explains why Langdon stole the mask if he wasn’t working for Zobrist, and it never explains what happened to Busoni. Perhaps there’s an earlier cut where these things are explained, but in the finished version, the film just shrugs it off in such a cavalier way that I’m left to wonder if Ron Howard just despises the audience.
Even if the plot wasn’t atrocious, Inferno would still be stuck with the same problem the first two movies have: it’s not fun. I’m not sure why this is lost on Howard and his writers, and maybe he thinks that approaching these movies as straight thrillers is the way to go. But their plots are so goofy that it makes no sense to be so po-faced about things.
The National Treasure movies understood that treasure hunts should be fun, and just because you’re dealing with history, that doesn’t mean characters can’t crack jokes or smile. But Langdon is once again a serious dude who seems like a real buzzkill. It makes no sense since Hanks is a talented, charismatic actor, and yet he’s played the sour Langdon three times now with diminishing returns. It’s almost like Dan Brown looked at Indiana Jones and thought, “Yeah, I like what he does, but I hate that he has a personality. Also, if he could mansplain everything to a female sidekick, that would be a plus.”
Hopefully, Inferno marks the end of the Robert Langdon movies. They fail as adaptations, they fail as thrillers, they fail as a showcase for Tom Hanks’ talent, and they fail in just about every other conceivable way with the exception of being an effective advertisement for the place where they’re set. But we don’t need feature length films to tell us that the Vatican and Florence are places worth visiting, and we certainly don’t need more movies featuring a bland protagonist going on bad adventures.