Inferno Review

Inferno starring Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Ben Foster and Irfan Khan

Warning: Minor Spoilers (but nothing big – I’m only going to comment in detail on stuff shown in the trailers)

I’m a long time fan of the Langdon series (books and films). They’re not necessarily great literature or cinema, but they are captivating mystery-thrillers which pull the great trick of grounding outlandish (yet somehow believable) plotlines in historical settings by clever use of real locations, institutions and artwork.

To recap, in the series so far we’ve had the Da Vinci Code (a temperate but clever film) following Langdon’s effort to expose a centuries old Church conspiracy, and Angels and Demons (a more pulsating thrill-ride) as he races to stop an illuminati plot to destroy Vatican city. Inferno is much closer to the latter in terms of style and plotline, except the stakes are even higher in this one as Langdon races to prevent a potential viral outbreak designed to kill 50% of the world’s population. This rests on his ability to decipher clues hidden in various pieces of artwork relating to Dante’s Inferno (the poem from which we get our modern view of Hell) while dealing with hallucinations and retro-grade amnesia that prevent him from remembering who he can trust.

First off, the good bits. Director Ron Howard shows he still knows his stuff (his experience on the thrilling film Rush shines through here), most notably in Langdon’s hallucinations at the beginning and the thrilling final set-piece. Hans Zimmer, the composer for the first two films, delivers arguably his most inventive score for the third film, which is continually sublime throughout even when the film itself falters. Felicity Jones is simply amazing as Langdon’s ally and Dante obsessive Sienna Brooks – whose performance is arguably the high point of the film (and makes me even more excited for Rogue One where she plays the lead). Irfan Khan is also very good value as ‘The Provost’ the head of a shadowy organisation who has been hiding the man who (unbeknownst to them) created the Inferno virus. The man in question is billionaire Bertrand Zobrist, who makes for an unusual/interesting villain in that 1. he believes his terrorist act is for the greater good as it will save humanity from destroying itself due to overpopulation and 2. he commits suicide within the first 5 minutes of the film (can you imagine the villain in a bond film doing that?), leaving it unclear till the mid-point of the film who is acting on Zobrist’s behalf.

Unfortunately the film has its weak points. While Tom Hanks’ performance is as good as you’d expect third time around, Langdon is largely sidelined for much of the film (especially in the first half) in favour of Sienna and the supporting cast. He is carried along by the narrative rather than contributing to it – there’s no ‘solving the cryptex’ or ‘saving a drowning cardinal’ equivalent where Langdon ultimately saves the day. In the first half especially things are a bit too easy for him to solve. The main reason for this is how much of the book gets cut in the film adaptation – the film tries to include all the major bits but rushes through the various locations so quickly you don’t see the point of some of them.

While The Da Vinci Code kept 90% true to the book and Angels and Demons masterfully re-organised the plot to edit the lacklustre opening third of the book out, Inferno changes too much and thus will probably confuse and infuriate any fans of the novel. I won’t mention specifics, but character motivations and fates get altered, sub-plots that weren’t in the book are added for no clear reason and the break-neck pace of the film loses a lot of the tension that made the book so memorable (Inferno is my personal favourite of the four novels, just edging out Angels and Demons). The book was genuinely unsettling in places with it’s Dante inspired imagery of hell and some seriously worrying messages about human overpopulation – the film tones down the former (presumably to get an unecessary 12a rating) and the latter is drowned out by the film’s focus on other parts of the narrative.

Overall Inferno has some great performances, a fantastic score from Hans Zimmer and a thrilling second half. But changes from the book and a curiously short run-time cause the first half to be a very weak endeavour. Once Zobrist’s villainous associate is revealed, the film gets a shot in the arm that makes it still worth watching. But it is probably the weakest film in the series – or at least the same level as Da Vinci Code.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Coming soon: My reviews of Luke Cage, Red Dwarf Season 11 and the incoming Doctor Strange film…

To put in context how well the series as a whole matches up to the books, here are my ratings for Inferno, Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons.

Da Vinci Code: Film (3/5), Book (3.5/5)

Angels and Demons: Film (4/5), Book (4/5)

Inferno: Film (3/5), Book (4.5/5)

As you can see, Inferno is the first film to fall seriously short of the book it was based on. I’d recommend you all read the book – its bloody brilliant.




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