Inferno (Allen)

(Originally posted 30th October 2016)

"The famous man looked at the red cup."

"The famous man looked at the red cup."

It's interesting that the likes of Tom Hanks and Ron Howard keep coming back to this franchise. They certainly don't need the money or the exposure; they must have offers pouting in every day. So what draws them in? The quality of the material? Certainly not. The chance to experiment? Hardly. There is only one possible explanation; Tom Hanks and Ron Howard are having an illicit affair and must resort to increasingly desperate measures to have an excuse to get away from their families and spend time together. In many ways, it is a beautiful story.

What's not a beautiful story is the one contained in Inferno. Even though Robert Langdon is still a symbologist and the central gimmick of the whole franchise is all the code breaking stuff, here it is relegated to token gestures and abandoned in favour of general action adventure. The plot itself revolves around an evil super villain's plan to release a chemical agent that will wipe out a huge swathe of the world's population.

Here's where it fails to really excite. First of all, the main bad guy, Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) is not really developed with enough character to really get you going. Indeed, he dies in the opening scene. His evil plan is to kill half the world's population, but his reasoning is sound, and that rather takes the wind out of the whole bad guy shtick. It reminded me of Samuel L. Jackson's character in Kingsman, in which it was difficult to posit them as the antagonist when you completely agree with their arguments. Okay, their methods are a bit on the murderous side, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

Langdon's sidekick in this film is Sienna Brooks, played rather mundanely by Felicity Jones. The lack of backstory we get for her character kind of gives away the supposedly shocking twist that she is actually working against Langdon. And there are a lot more twists and turns as the plot endeavours to journey into its own backside, with two separate agencies from the World Health Organisation pursuing Langdon, who may or may not be carrying a plague that will kill everyone. And then there's a shadowy organisation that kill people with antique daggers, but they just work for whoever pays, or for what's right, or something. It gets very messy towards the end.

Speaking of the ending, it has not gone down well. It's a pretty classic Hollywood happy ending where the hero saves the world. Boring enough to the likes of me, but to fans of the book (they're out there), this is absolute sacrilege, as apparently the book goes with the "plague kills everyone" ending, and that's what they want. From what I can ascertain, that certainly would have been more satisfying in a dramatic sense but it can't be an easy thing to sell to a studio producer.

True love since 1984.

True love since 1984.

Apart from the overly convoluted plot, another major problem is the visual style, in that it is almost unwatchable. The beginning of the film has our hero suffering from a head wound. This affects his perception and we as an audience are forced, through the magic of cinema, to experience it with him. On a practical level, that's some solid cinematic work, but as an experience, it is highly unpleasant. And even when Langdon is recovered, we're still subjected to the delights of Jason Bourne's personal cameraman, with frantic movements and quick cuts the order of the day.

The one element that does just about work is a subplot based around one of the WHO agents tracking Langdon, who it turns out has a past personal relationship with him. It's all a bit shoe-horned in, but the premise basically works and it develops Langdon quite nicely. He is the lonely academic, who has lost a personal life to pursuit of his work, and here we see the emotional fallout of that in a man who is reaching the latter stages of his life (and even Tom Hanks is starting to show it). This was a nice sojourn into the area of character development in a highly plot driven film and, in the context, is handled pretty well.

Overall, it's a basic bit of action from the Hollywood machine. It's not interesting or compelling in any way and at times it was kind of unwatchable but that's what I expect these days so ultimately it felt as if their was no harm done.

Fairly pointless, but also harmless; 5/10.


You can hear our suggestions for the latest Robert Langdon adventures here: