For some reason director Ron Howard and Sony Pictures skipped over the 3rd book in the Robert Langdon mystery series, ‘The Lost Symbol’, and went for the 4th - ‘Inferno’ - as their follow up to the worldwide smash ‘The Da Vinci Code’ and the luke-warm ‘Angels & Demons’. With all crew returning along with Tom Hanks and a host of new faces, this is a slight chance of pace for Langdon, but still will satisfy fans of the films and, hopefully, the books
One thing about this film that is consistent is the cinematography; they’ve always got it right for these adventures across Europe, and here across Florence, Venice and Istanbul Salvatore Totino doesn’t disappoint. From bustling city night-life to the gorgeous architecture and decor of 700 year old temples and plazas, we really go further than most films allow in exploring secrets of the past.
The story drops you right in straight away - waking up disorientated and unaware of what has happened except having only a head wound and blood stained clothes, Robert Langdon is back to his puzzled, logical best and Tom Hanks is just perfect in the role. He doesn’t need to be an action hero; he just needs to be a simple man, likeable and with a brilliant methodical mind. No-one better than Hanks has that likeable factor and the guise of someone who knows their stuff. It’s no different here, except Langdon is a little slower at the start due to his wound, along with the nightmarish visions of ‘Inferno’ he experiences. It was a little frustrating seeing Hanks with the brakes on as this confused and dazed Langdon - you just want him to get on with cracking codes and solving puzzles - but it’s nice to see him not immediately ahead of the game.
Felicity Jones is his newest female ally and I always like how there doesn’t need to be anything romantic between the leads - they can simply get on as partners with shared love of the subject in hand and combined knowledgeable that makes both key to success. Jones is so plain and pretty, she looks wonderfully naive and innocent in her scenes; using her acting ability and not resorting to being just arm candy. Even though she looks like an 18 year old due to her youthful looks, she has plenty of surprises up her sleeves and few scenes I never expected having never read the book. I can’t wait to see her in action during ‘Rogue One’ later this year.
Ben Foster spends most of his screen-time in YouTube videos and flashbacks laying the foundations for the whole “race against time” plot, and our supporting cast complete the usual Dan Brown character list of “trustworthy ally”, “trustworthy-but-really-bad ally”, “bad ally”, “assassin”, “scientist”. It’s the usual formula that offers nothing new, but if you’ve not read the book like me, you’ll have a few revelations at least. Irrfan Khan is a highlight as head of the shadowy organisation that gives SPECTRE a run for their money - and Khan needs to be in a Bond film as ally or villain, he’s got a great screen presence.
The structure of the film is similar to the previous entries so you know what to expect, but I feel there is a lot less puzzle solving and ancient history to wade through to get to the cat-and-mouse / race against time meat and bones of the plot. It’s a more generic action thriller than the previous two, which felt far more contained and intricate; ‘The Da Vinci Code’ a prime example with the non-stop puzzles, clues, messages and hidden trails. ‘Angels & Demons’ had a contained location of the Vatican and Rome, making things feel far more tense solving 4 puzzles relating to 4 kidnapped Cardinals.
‘Inferno’ has a few cryptic clues along the way, but most of it is hopping from one location to another to find the next clue at the end of a trail. There isn’t much to baffle you this time, except the numerous plot holes that pop up leading you to wonder how people knew things and why they were even doing what they were. Still, you’ll be overwhelmed with the fast pacing of it all to stop and question things too much.
Hans Zimmer provides a pretty decent and tense soundtrack which has motifs from the previous films and always keeps that sense of danger present. While the second half dips a little compared to the frantic first half, we at least have a decent finale that does the film justice and is well shot in the catacombs of Istanbul, and it all feels more relevant to today's society.
Tom Hanks is the main appeal here for audiences, and those who love Dan Brown. It’s not going to tax your brains as much and is easier to follow. I for one enjoyed it as a more “adult” thriller, away from the noise and high-octane summer blockbuster season, but rank it 3rd out of this current trilogy. Which isn't a bad thing, I just enjoyed the more ingenious puzzles and symbology of the first two.
I hope it will fare better with audiences in October 2016 than the original release date of December 2015 which had it going up against ‘The Force Awakens’, and we get to see 'The Lost Symbol' on the big screen - because even Dante can’t compete with the Force!