It’s been eight years since Ron Howard and Tom Hanks adapted a Dan Brown novel – question is, should you still care?
Inferno opens with an arresting premise; our hero, Harvard professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), is writhing in pain and suffering from vivid hallucinations of a fiery hellscape from a crummy Italian hospital bed. He doesn’t remember how he got here or how a gunshot grazed the side of his head; he just has to trust the word of Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), the doctor standing by his bedside trying to fill in the blanks.
From here the film dives into a breakneck game of cat-and-mouse through winding Florentine alleyways and ornate Venetian basilicas. Langdon and Brooks have gotten themselves caught in a breathless race against time that sees the duo zigzag from one cryptic clue to another in order to unravel the mysteries of a looming apocalypse plotted by an ostentatious billionaire (Ben Foster).
Unfortunately, Inferno is a movie of two distinct halves; the first is seriously good stuff, as Howard bursts out of the gate with a kinetic energy usually reserved for hyped-up preteens who’ve consumed too many Skittles. It’s batshit insane at times but it keeps you guessing and barely pauses to draw breath.
The sluggish second half is another story. A sudden twist slams on the brakes and sees the absorbing plot grind to a halt. The fault doesn’t lie with Howard’s direction, which is as smooth and punchy as ever. It’s more down to David Koepp’s uneven screenplay and how poorly it handles this narrative whiplash. Also, there are a lot of baddies in this film, and it’s never crystal clear who is working for who and why. We just know that they’re shooting at Tom Hanks and that must mean they’re bad.
Hanks can’t really be faulted for his performance, but I can’t help but feel like his natural charm is sort of wasted here. Langdon isn’t a character who leaps out of the screen in the same way that Indiana Jones does – if asked to summarise him in two words, I’d struggle to come up with anything more imaginative than “nice suit”.
Similarly, Jones doesn’t get a lot to work with aside from being Langdon’s doe-eyed, know-it-all assistant. The film pulls plenty of other respected actors in for supporting roles – Irrfan Khan offers some quick quips and Omar Sy is a cold hitman – but the convoluted claptrap that Koepp calls a plot drowns them out.
It’s not the series’ nadir (strangely that honour is still held by the first movie), but Inferno could and probably should have been so much more than just okay. Howard, Hanks and Koepp have all the right ingredients on the table in front of them; they just keep adding them to the mixer in a manner that makes the final product taste a tad off.
The Verdict: 5/10
As an adequate action adventure to pass the time, Inferno hits the mark; but as a showcase of the best Hanks and Howard can achieve, it leaves something to be desired.
Inferno is in cinemas across Australia now