While Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code universe has its legions of fans, I’ve often pointed out that the books have a fundamental and annoying flaw. In order to maintain a sense of mystery, they need to resort to some patently ridiculous gimmicks to keep information from being communicated between central characters. Sure, that’s a problem in almost all mysteries, but the way that Brown accomplishes it feels so hackneyed that it’s risible. A simple chat between two people would provide the solution within the first few pages, thus presumably ruining the fun.
With Inferno, Brown takes it one step further, giving his lead amnesia so that he can’t remember information that otherwise would be recalled immediately. As an audience we’re taken on another ride of discovery, following our hapless protagonist as he pieces together fragments of knowledge that lead him on a cross-country journey to stop a modern plague.
The conspiracy this time round has less to do the machinations of a secret Church cult and instead derives from the ravings of a mad millennial multi-millionaire, though we still spend much of our time in columned and frescoed locales throughout Europe. Tom Hanks is back as Robert Langdon, this time muddy-headed after a surprise attack that’s wiped his mind. After being treated at a hospital by Felicity Jones, he’s soon attacked and on the run – but to where? As the pieces fall into place, he travels to all the locations laid out in the trailer until – naturally – there’s a big confrontation to prevent conflagration.
Hanks does his best to elevate the dreck, and Ron Howard gives another yeoman try with his direction. These films make loads of money for those involved, and while they’re perhaps not as nourishing as other, more adventurous films (think Howard’s sublime Rush), I can only presume the cash goes towards other fun projects like his most recent Beatles doc.
The main baddie in the film is played by an increasingly typecast Ben Foster, and it’s his TED talk ravings that provide the central tenet of the film – millennials are diabolical monsters, and only middle aged and wizened professors can make sense of their preposterous idealism and set the record straight. In some ways, it’s the most anti-Bernie Bro sentiment yet seen in fiction form, an inadvertent knock on the idealism of youth that becomes corrupted when it collides with the messiness that is actual living.
There are some chases, some slinking around in the ceilings of famous building, and even a quip or two. But save for a stellar turn by Irrfan Khan, whose world weariness and competence provides a welcome antidote the rest of the by-the-numbers mess, it’s all kind of shit. The “mystery” is as predictable as anything, and the only reason you don’t have an early resolution is the artificial and silly amnesia, which spreads the pain over the running time of the film simply because there’s no better or smarter way of doing so.
In the end, Inferno is more incompetent than truly diabolical, and save for Mr. Khan its greatest faults are its banality rather than anything truly, irreparably egregious. Still, it’s fair to say the fires of Inferno don’t burn particularly bright. As a trifle it may amuse some. For others it’ll simply be a waste of time.