Decoding Hell

What a relief, the symbologist is here

inferno

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Inferno
Opens October 28
3 out of 5

Just as the Dan Brown novels get no respect (they have been described as “books for people who don’t read”), the movie adaptations are also despised. Granted, The Da Vinci Code was clumsy and literal, but Angels and Demons was so unapologetically preposterous, it was a hoot. How many movies have you seen that combine a Catholic priest, a helicopter and a ticking anti-matter bomb in a single action sequence?

Inferno fits somewhere in the middle. There are glimpses of the A&D lunacy while the film unfolds in a similar fashion to The Da Vinci Code. The level of suspense is relative as most twists can be spotted from the credits, but it’s all made competently, courtesy of above-average acting and a director — Ron Howard — who knows his way around a wanna-be blockbuster.

Most of the intrigue happens at the beginning: Inferno’s would-be villain, billionaire biochemist (!) Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) kills himself rather than surrender to the authorities five minutes into the movie. Zobrist’s main beef is with the planet’s overpopulation and resource scarcity, so he has engineered a virus that should wipe out over half the population. Problem solved.

Or not. The one man that could stop the apocalypse, symbologist Robert Langdon (Hanks)(also: what???), lies in a hospital bed in Florence. A bullet has grazed Langdon’s head and he is experiencing some memory loss. He remembers obscure XIV Century references, but forgets coffee (I don’t think that’s how amnesia works).

Furthermore, whoever tried to kill him wants to finish the job. Also, the World Health Organization and the police suspect Langdon is in cahoots with the megalomaniac.

His only clue: a reproduction of Dante’s seven circles of hell. His only ally: Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones, Rogue One), a surly physician with a penchant for puzzles.

The plot of Inferno doesn’t survive analysis. Instead of just letting the virus loose in an airport to ensure it spreads, Zobrist concocts a scavenger hunt for his followers to unleash it themselves. I could poke holes in the plot all day, but I would enter spoiler territory. All I can say is that no respectable supervillain allows for this many variables.

But Ron Howard is a solid storyteller and the cast is good enough to convince the audience this is serious business. Outside the reliable Hanks and the self-effacing Jones, an overqualified international cast, including the wonderful Sidse Babett Knudsen (Westworld), Omar Sy (The Intouchables) and Irrfan Khan (The Lunchbox), delivers the gravitas the script fails to supply.

Just as in the previous episodes, the travelogue aspect of the saga is front and center, this time featuring Florence and Istanbul. That said, Inferno is flashier, particularly during the all-bets-are-off operatic conclusion in which several characters with different agendas face off. It’s over the top, ridiculous and possibly the best moment of the franchise after that Vatican-under-siege madness from last time.

The Dan Brown novels have arrived to the big screen out of order. Inferno, skips the Langdon vs. the Freemasons romp The Last Symbol. I can’t say I’m looking forward to that, but by recognizing the saga is popcorn fodder not high art, one is likely to have a good time.