By Jack Dignan
Originally Published on Salty Popcorn - You Can Find Several Other Reviews By Jack Dignan Here As Well
As hard as I may try, I have no logical explanation as to why THE DA VINCI CODE franchise is so popular. The first book, written by Dan Brown, is in the top fifteen selling books of all time, and yet, when you speak to a lot of the people who read it, most of them hated it. The second book, ANGELS & DEMONS, sold half the copies the first book did, yet it still found its way into the top fifty. Both of those, naturally, got movie adaptations, because why not? Admittedly, I’ve only seen THE DA VINCI CODE, but I did not enjoy it, that’s for sure. I was reluctant to see INFERNO, which is the third movie but actually the fourth book in the franchise, but I went to the screening Tuesday night hoping for the best. I guess I should’ve known better.
INFERNO begins with Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), the protagonist of all three movies, waking up in a hospital room with a bullet wound to the head and no recollection of the past week. He is also in Italy, which comes as quite the shock to him as he last recalls being back home in America. His doctor, Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), assures him that his memory will slowly return over the next few days, but their appointment is cut short after an attack on the hospital, and through circumstances I won’t spoil, Robert and Sienna get themselves wrapped up in a scheme that could potentially kill a lot of the world’s population.
They’re on the run through Europe, chasing clues to discover just what it is that’s going on, and what it has to do with Dante’s Inferno, an ancient poem describing the nine circles on the journey to hell, or something of the sorts. Time is of the essence, and I really wish I could give a better synopsis for this movie, but I genuinely don’t know what happened. The plot, much like THE DA VINCI CODE, just didn’t make an awful lot of sense, but hey, if the characters talk fast enough then surely that won’t matter, right?
While I can’t recall what the characters were talking about for half the movie, during the first act, this isn’t a bad thing. As this is, essentially, a mystery-thriller (I don’t know why it’s being advertised as an action film), not knowing what’s going on is part of the fun. It keeps you entertained, and the first act of the movie did a solid job at doing so. I was enjoying it, which took me by great surprise as I wasn’t expecting to, even if I had no idea what was happening. But you’re not meant to yet. It’s all about the mystery and the suspense, and it had me intrigued, wanting to know more.
The first act feels like the work of a…. well, I was going to say master class filmmaker, but maybe I shouldn’t go that far. But it’s at least the work of somebody who knows exactly what it is they’re doing, and they do it well. Ron Howard returns to the director’s chair for the third time, and like everything he does, he’s great, especially in this first act. Tom Hanks’ character is struggling with temporary amnesia, all while simultaneously having visions of the end of the world, and the way Ron Howard handles it is almost mesmerising. It plays with your head, penetrating its way into your mind and showcasing somewhat horrifying imagery that you won’t be able to forget. And it works. It does what it set out to do. It’s a non-stop, fast paced opening, and sets up what should’ve been a much better movie than what we ended up getting.
What follows this rather impressive first act isn’t nearly as good, unfortunately. The second act still managed to maintain my interest, but it barely did so, and then by the time we got to the third act, I just didn’t care anymore. It’s predictable and idiotic, none of the plot twists coming as any sort of surprise, yet the more I thought about them, the less sense they made. From the moment everything is set up, I could see exactly where they were going with it. I was just hoping that, when they explain everything, they actually give it a bit of logic, but clearly I expect too much from this series. THE DA VINCI CODE tried to convince me that one of the main characters was a descendent of Jesus. I don’t really know why I thought INFERNO would be any better at explaining things.
In fact, once we do get to the third act, it feels like a completely different film in comparison to the first act. This whole movie is a downwards spiral, concluding with a sequence that tries oh so very hard to put you on the edge of your seat, but is way too stupid for its own good. It’s full of idiotic moments that completely took me out of the moment, and character twists that just don’t work. They try to spin a lot of characters around, but in doing so, they feel disconnected to who they once were.
Let’s take the movie UNBREAKABLE for example, so spoiler alert if you haven’t seen that film. In the film’s closing moments, it’s revealed that Samuel L Jackson’s character is, after all, a villain of sorts. It’s never suggested previously, but once the twist is revealed, it makes perfect sense. It’s a twist that stays true to who they are as a character, and the reveal doesn’t swap their personality around in the slightest. INFERNO tries to do this a few times, but the twists aren’t revealed seamlessly. They trade the character’s personality entirely, leaving almost no remnants of what they were.
How this franchise manages to get such a talented cast and crew is beyond me. Everyone involved in these movies are seriously fantastic, and when yet they come together it makes for a boring mess, but it’s a boring mess with great performances. Tom Hanks is one of the greatest actors of all time, and while I haven’t been the biggest fan of the two movies he’s starred in so far this year, it’s safe to say he was fantastic in both of them. Felicity Jones is also quite excellent as the second lead, although I had plenty of issues with her character, which was unfortunate. But more on that in a second. The rest of the supporting cast, including the likes of Ben Foster, Omar Sy, Irrfan Khan and Sidse Babett Knudsen, all give quality performances, however none of them get too much screen time to really show what great performers they all are.
On top of the great cast and director, Hans Zimmer also returns as the composer, and I will admit, as much as I wanted it to, the score didn’t really affect me. It’s not all that noticeable and didn’t manage to stand out. I am a big Zimmer fan, particularly his scores for Christopher Nolan films (although how can you discuss Zimmer without mentioning his iconic Pirates of the Caribbean score?), and so the fact that it isn’t a memorable score is both disappointing and surprising, so I feel as though it’s probably best I go out of my way to listen to it, or at least skim through some of his compositions just to see what they’re like outside the context of the movie. For all I know, they could be fantastic, and maybe it’s the mediocrity of the movie that’s clouding my judgement.
This is a franchise of average storytelling told through two dimensional characters, and with INFERNO, nothing has changed. Forgive me if any depth was provided in ANGELS & DEMONS, but between this and THE DA VINCI CODE, all I really know about Robert Langdon is that he teaches history (I think?), has an ex-wife and is claustrophobic. That’s all the writers have given us to latch onto this character, and it’s not nearly enough. He’s about as two dimensional as it comes, severely lacking in emotional depth or characterisation of any kind, and that’s the main character! As one would imagine, the supporting cast are even worse.
Almost everything we know about Sienna is told to us in about thirty seconds, and after that we’re just expected to like her, yet her character is so conflicting. She made the strangest decisions, and how she reacted to her actions was always questionable. On top of that, the film attempts to create somewhat of an antagonist. This character has about two minutes of screen time and doesn’t interact with any of the main characters, yet they’re given the role of primary villain. Their motive has no other explanation than ‘oh hey this guy wants to do a very bad thing.’ I couldn’t buy into what they were trying to do, and his plan didn’t need to be anywhere near as elaborate or complicated as it ended up being. It was the most overly dramatic way of accomplishing what he was trying to accomplish.
INFERNO, for all it’s worth, is a step up from THE DA VINCI CODE, but that really isn’t saying an awful lot when its predecessor isn’t.... what’s the word.... Good. It gets off to a solid start, but it’s all downhill from there. If you find enjoyment in these movies, which believe it or not some people do, then you may enjoy this third instalment in what I consider to be an extremely boring franchise, but for the rest of us, you’re better off staying at home and giving it a miss.
2 1/2 Stars