The central philosophical question at the heart of “Inferno” is one we’ve seen often: would you kill a few to save many? The film raises the stakes to exterminating half the world’s population, which would, in turn, save the human race from complete extinction. Maybe this makes me a super-villain, but that seems like a no-brainer.
Tom Hanks is the perpetually confused Robert Langdon, who begins the film hospitalized and in a state of amnesia. The only thing that comes to mind is a progression of hellish images, such as men with their heads turned backwards and severed legs burning in a puddle of lava. Like a school alarm, his daydreaming is cut short by the firing of bullets, and in his direction, no less. His doctor, played by Felicity Jones, aids Langdon in his escape and takes him to her apartment where they discover a clue to a mystery they don’t even know yet. While they work backwards to discover, uncover or recover some important information, the World Health Organization is doing some investigating of their own, as well as a mysterious, heavily-armed third party. Ben Foster’s character, a billionaire with some out-there ideas, seems to be at the center of all the commotion, as suggested by his suspicious demise that opens the film.
Plot is overrated. It’s a crutch that bad writers use to create the illusion of substance. Some globe-trotting adventure is devised—full of twists, turns and contortions—and then characters are created to act out the events like rats in a maze; the strongest stories—the stories that last and people remember—are the ones that begin with characters, and from the characters, the plot naturally unravels. I rant, because “Inferno” is a procedural of clues, squinting, explanations and Tom Hanks doing light cardio—all without any pathos, intrigue or reason for being. The film expects you to care on the flimsy basis of “I know something you don’t know.”
I’m not sure how Robert Langdon made it this far in the “Da Vinci Code” trilogy. He runs from danger like a senior citizen who really wants the last pudding cup, and he doesn’t appear to be particularly intelligent, unless knowing a handful of party anecdotes could be considered so. Jones’ character appears to exist with the sole purpose of filling in the gaps in Langdon’s knowledge. At one point, after Jones spits out some obscure fact and everyone stares at her, she humorlessly explains that she was really into Dante in kindergarten. Okay.
Ron Howard continues to be the store-brand Spielberg, honing in on all of that director’s worst tendencies, like sentimentality and hyper-direction. He spends 15 minutes telling the audience that Langdon has head trauma by stuffing the soundtrack with chalkboard scratches and broken violins, as well as a barrage of rapid-fire editing to simulate a distorted reality. Howard is the cinematic equivalent of the “close talker” from Seinfeld.
The one thing Howard nails in this film is falling. Yes, the act of falling is portrayed twice and done so in a startlingly visceral manner—one person even falls through one of those fancy ceiling paintings. We’ve come so far from the days when Hitchcock would film Norman Lloyd spinning around on an office chair, then overlay that over film of a steep drop (as seen in “Saboteur”). That’s about all “Inferno” has going for it: the perfection of the fall.
2.5 out of 5 stars