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Inferno: Movie Review

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With apologies to die-hard Da Vinci Code fans (I’m assuming that’s a thing), Inferno was my introduction to the adventures of symbologist/professor Robert Langdon, played once again by Tom Hanks. This third installment in the Da Vinci Code franchise reunites Hanks and director Ron Howard ten years after the release of the original. I guess I just never got around to watching the first two. That might not be a bad thing. I got to judge Inferno on its merits alone because I lacked expectations, good or bad, set by the other films. I can’t say whether Inferno holds its own among its predecessors, but I can say it blended action, intrigue, and suspense into a fun movie.

inferno-3Inferno pairs Langdon (Hanks) with Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) to stop a billionaire (Ben Foster) from releasing a virus designed to cull the human population with gruesome speed. This element of the plot makes an interesting statement about sustainability and overconsumption, but these ideas aren’t developed much beyond giving a credible reason for a billionaire to kill billions of people. Facing the threat of a deadly global pandemic, the situation is grave. Vivid and haunting imagery inspired by Dante’s Inferno set the tone for Ron Howard’s Inferno early in act one. With the grim context set, the action gets going  and doesn’t stop.

Langdon (Hanks) seems to have an inexhaustible reservoir of arcane knowledge, in this case helping him solve puzzles based on the works of Dante Alighieri. Delving into Dante relics means this movie, as with The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons before it, is set in Europe. The movie takes place in beautiful and historic locales, lending an air of cultured refinement. Some of Inferno’s most impressive scenes are both visually stunning and legitimately exciting. As the action jumps from one gorgeous setting to another, you never know where the professor is headed, but you can bet it’s not Cleveland.

inferno-1Early in the film, it’s hard to make sense of what’s going on. Audiences are presented with more or less the same puzzle as Langdon. Figuring out who the bad guys are is as tricky for the characters as it is for viewers. I found the ambiguity a little confusing. Langdon’s encyclopedic knowledge is a little over the top, so it was amusing to see him forced to use Google. I also found it a little hard to accept the World Health Organization as a sort of trans-national military force responsible for counter-bioterrorism. These quibbles are minor, at worst. Movies don’t need to be plausible to be enjoyable.

Hanks’ performance was certainly good enough to carry this film, though his character lacked the emotional depth necessary to rank Inferno among his more memorable roles. Stealing the show was Irrfan Khan, who played the head of a shadowy private security firm. Audiences might recognize Khan from recent roles in Life of Pi and Jurassic World, though he is best known for his work in Bollywood. Khan’s performance was understated, wry, and thoroughly entertaining despite relatively little time onscreen. I would watch two hours of just him. He was fantastic. Seriously, if he ends up in a movie with Samuel L. Jackson and Christoph Waltz, my head might explode.

inferno-2There are plenty of twists throughout Inferno, both expected and unexpected. I appreciate the restraint shown by not making Langdon, ostensibly an ultra-cerebral professor, into some kind of action hero like Indiana Jones. That Langdon’s brawn isn’t a match for his brains is refreshing, even if a little underwhelming. This is a movie that’s fun as long as you don’t overthink it. Though tempting, analyzing movie plots a la Professor Langdon often makes them fall apart. I learned my lesson more recently than I care to admit that sometimes it’s best to take movies at face value because there’s no reward for digging deeper. In the end, it’s more fun to like things than to dislike them.

Inferno (2016)
Director:  Ron Howard
Studio:  Sony Pictures
Genre:  Drama, Mystery, Suspense
MPAA:  PG-13
Release Date:  October 28th, 2016
Author:  Jason M. Brown
Jason MBrown Seattle native Jason M. Brown traded liquid sunshine for the real thing when he recently moved to San Diego. Jason graduated from Washington State University with a Humanities degree focusing on English and has worked as a copywriter. An avid fan of comedy, horror, and almost any movie that started as a comic book, Jason lives in California, but still loves Seattle Seahawks football, apologies to the Chargers.

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