Following on from The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, which were released in 2006 and 2009 respectively, the third in the thriller series is Inferno, based on Dan Brown’s novel of the same name. Ron Howard returns to the director’s chair for the latest instalment with David Koepp resuming screenwriting duties. When Professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) wakes in a hospital bed in Florence, he is suffering from both amnesia and a head injury. Luckily for him, on hand to assist is Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) who helps him fill in the blanks while they figure out how and why he got there. They come under attack from a mysterious assassin and a wild-goose-chase ensues as they attempt to foil a plan to release a deadly plague, conceived by visionary scientist Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) who is desperate to solve the world’s overpopulation problem.
Art history plays a major part in the development of the quite preposterous plotting, as clues around Botticelli’s Map of Hell and Dante’s Inferno inform Langdon and Brooks’ investigation. The script isn’t content with dropping in the cultural references though and insists on having the characters explain everything in detail as the pair hotfoot it around the museums to Han Zimmer’s rather overbearing score. That’s not to say there isn’t some fun to be had, and to be fair the action sequences are well choreographed. A scene at the rooftop of the Palazzo Vecchio is particularly impressive, mounting real tension as the armed authorities close in on their targets.
After three outings as Langdon, Hanks is very comfortable in the role and his performance is solid, if a little safe. We’ve come to know what to expect from him and he rarely disappoints. In contrast to this, Jones is new to the franchise but her on-screen relationship with Hanks makes the film entirely watchable despite the wafer-thin plot. She deserves some sort of recognition for all the running around she manages in six inch heels. Ben Foster gives a charismatic turn with his limited screen time and Zobrist is arguably the most interesting character of the piece. Personally I think the film would have benefitted from fleshing out his back-story a little more in order to methodise his madness and substantiate his extreme ploy to rid the world of half of its inhabitants.
Inferno is a stylish but ineffective addition to the Dan Brown cinematic anthology, and its problems lie in the fact that it is far more concerned with trying to show how clever it is than actually telling a story. I can only imagine that the littering of faux intellect works better on the page than it does on screen but through the narrative silliness, Ron Howard continues to draw top performances from his leads. The pairing of Hanks and Jones saves it from becoming an insufferable filmic vision of hell.