Now playing at a multiplex near you:
INFERNO (Dir. Ron Howard, 2016)
Here, Hanks teams with Ron Howard again for the third chapter in the Robert Langdon film series, based on Dan Brown’s bestselling novels, which began ten years ago with THE DA VINCI CODE, followed by 2009’s ANGELS & DEMONS.
This time, Hanks’ Harvard Professor of Symbology Langdon awakens in a hospital in Florence, Italy with a head wound and no memory of how he got there. He’s also haunted by apocalyptic visions involving fire, serpents, people with faces on the backs of their head, rivers of blood, and all sorts of chaotic hellish imagery.
Langdon is being tended to by Felicity Jones as Dr. Sienna Brooks, an admirer of his work, of course, and they discover that in his jacket pocket he has the film’s first McGuffin, a mysterious cylinder, with a biohazard sign on it.
Then a black clad assassin (Ana Ularu) starts shooting at them, killing another doctor in the hallway, and Langdon and Brooks are on the run. Back at Brooks’ apartment, the duo find in his belongings a Faraday pointer, which projects Sandro Boticelli’s the famous “Map of Hell,” based on Dante’s Inferno. In the painting they find the name of billionaire Bertrand Zobrist, whose evil plan they find is wipe out 95% of the world’s population via a world wide virus.
The police, associates from the World Health Organization headed by Elizabeth Sinskey (Sidse Babett Knudsen), a sketchy security firm, and the aforementioned assassin narrow in on Langdon and Brooks and we’re off on another chase then museum stop for more clues then another chase. One of these chases, involving a drone chasing our heroes through a Renaissance garden, is actually fairly fun!
Despite that the stakes have to do with Langdon saving most of the population of earth, they don’t feel like they’re that high, mainly because he’s able to too easily get out of close scrapes and the many shadowy folks that are chasing him and his new much younger partner (don’t worry there’s no forced romance here) sure take a long time to catch up.
There’s also not much to the villain Zobrist played by Ben Foster, who’s been way more effectively sinister in such films as 3:10 To YUMA, 30 DAYS TO NIGHT, and ALPHA DOG, and there’s a twist involving him that has very little impact.
This is just Hanks and Howard going through the motions of another Dan Brown formula, adapted in a workman like manner by screenwriter David Koepp (JURRASIC PARK, INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE LOST SKULL, SPIDER-MAN). Hanks has charm a plenty, and Howard keeps the pace moving, but it can’t help but feel like a tired exercise. By the time we get to the climax set at the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul I was so beyond caring.
That sequence and the rest of the film, including a visit to Venice, all look quite exquisite thanks to the eye of cinematographer Salvatore Totino, so maybe the movie makes for a mildly intriguing travelogue rather than the intense mystery adventure it was aiming to be.
It’s funny that a week before the opening of INFERNO, Hanks made more notable news when he hosted Saturday Night Live for the first time in ten years. I predict that his absurd appearance as the immediately iconic David S. Pumpkins will go down as a more profoundly puzzling piece of pop culture than this. That’s a good thing, especially because INFERNO lost out to being #1 at the box office to BOO! A MADEA HALLOWEEN. So Hanks had at least one definite win this season, even if it wasn’t on the big screen. Any questions?