Full disclosure: I read the book Inferno when it first came out and remember thinking “this is total trash reading but it might work better as a film.” I believe I was right and that it is definitely better as a film but it’s an incredibly low bar which the team more trips over, landing awkwardly with some scrapes and bruises as opposed to leaping over it gloriously.
Inferno brings back the character of Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) however this time he awakes from a hellish nightmare in a hospital bed in Florence, a bullet wound causing short term amnesia as informed by his doctor Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones). Before he can regain all his senses though they are attacked by an assassin and must flee, with Langdon joining forces with Brooks to solve a Dante Alighieri puzzle found on Langdon’s person in the hopes of saving the world from a deadly plague that would wipe out half the population, built by the mad billionaire bio-engineer Bertand Zorbrist (Ben Foster).
There are elements of this story that work, with the opening sequences and Langdon’s memory loss and hallucinations all creating a great visceral experience of the amnesia and pain Langdon is experiencing that set this apart from the other films. However once we leave Dr Brooks’ apartment it all feels achingly familiar, with Langdon and his intelligent, brunette companion chasing clues in famous old European landmarks while being chased by various groups of different motivations whose trustworthiness is in question.
Whilst the previous films have had some element of fun to watching them, Inferno fully goes away from that with this being more of a rushed race with solving of any clue taking mere moments before they must dash off to another secret passage to escape the various factions and moving onto the next clue. There is some chemistry between the two leads at first though this is quickly buried in their frantic chase around Florence with the poor dialogue never adding more no matter what Hanks and Jones try to do with their performances. Irrfan Khan is enjoyable as The Provost in his sparing screen time and Omar Sy is appropriately devilish at times but neither is given much to do.
The film does deviate from the book plot to give a much neater finish, however it was more satisfyingly bleak in the book. Perhaps Ron Howard and screenwriter David Koepp decided that cinema audiences wouldn’t respond as well to it as can be handled by a book. Frustratingly they never cover why someone so hell bent on starting a global plague would leave it hidden and set to go off on a certain day rather than just releasing it where the book has this event covered much more neatly.
These films have always felt like a bit more of an adult’s version of the National Treasure films with a bit more nuance but also with enough Tom Hanks wit and charm to keep it fun and enough intrigue to keep them exciting. While Inferno has some of the best settings in the films yet, it cranks the pace up too high and leaves the fun and the intrigue in the dust behind it. Not even Hanks can figure out a way to make this fun and an intense final sequence comes too late to solve the mystery of “why wasn’t the entire film like this?”