The “Robert Langdon” series is one of those series that Hollywood is desperate to make into a success – getting talents like Tom Hanks and Ron Howard involved. However, it has been a case of diminishing returns: the first movie The Da Vinci Code was a big hit but only has a Rotten Tomatoes of 25% and the sequel Angels & Demons made half as much as money as its predecessor, although it had a better critical response. Now after a seven-year break Hanks is back as Langdon, traveling across Europe to stop a megalomaniac.
Robert Langdon awakes in hospital in Florence, Italy, after being shot in the head and has no memory of the last 48 hours. After being attacked by an assassin posing as a police officer, Langdon and his genius doctor Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) have to go on the run, finding out that a mad billionaire Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) plans to release a virus that can kill half the world’s population in a radical bid to save the planet. Fortunately for Langdon, there have been clues left behind regarding the virus’ location hidden in artifacts related to the famous medieval poem Inferno by Dante Alighieri.
The Da Vinci Code was a publishing sensation back in 2003, selling 80 million copies by 2009, and been translated into 44 languages – a huge achievement considering the book wasn’t that good, filled with illogical plotting, an unbelievable storyline, having an author showing off how much research he has done instead of entertaining and if the world did find out that Jesus did have a family, the public’s reaction would have been ‘that’s interesting’ and then they would move on with their lives. Darren Brown follow-up books haven’t been as successful. Inferno follows many of the story beats and ideas that were set out in The Da Vinci Code – both movies are historical mysteries that require international travel to famous locations involving famous artefacts in Christian art and history, there are numerous double and triple crosses on their journey and like The Da Vinci Code Langdon has to team up with another attractive lady and to solve the mystery while avoiding the law. The stories even have the same story beat where Langdon and his partner trick the authorities into going to the wrong location.
As a writer, Brown does not let logic get in the way of telling a story. Inferno moves at such a fast pace that it does not let you think about the plotholes that appear throughout the movie – any attempt to dissect the story would result in it falling like a house of cards. Even the basic premise is faulty – why would there be clues to the location of the virus, when the plan of the villains is revealed it results in thoughts about everything that could have gone wrong and everything is just overly complicated. There are red herrings to distract the audience, including a diversion to the wrong city, and bombards you with historical facts.
There is some inconsistency in the characters’ intelligence levels. The amnesia plot device is an excuse for Langdon to remember or forget important facts at convenient times, while Sienna is shown to be a child prodigy yet comes up with some suggestions that a woman with high intelligence wouldn’t have even humored. The world of Inferno also shows agents working for the World Health Organization are more like the CIA than a pan-national team of scientists. However, everyone in front of and behind the camera seems to be aware of the silliness, and it is reflected in how some of the dialogue was written and how it was delivered. Two examples are when Langdon showing off his knowledge and Sienna pointing out that he couldn’t remember the name of a hot brown beverage, and when Langdon says, he needs to read a copy of Dante’s Inferno, Sienna says she uses Google – possibly a reference to Angels & Demons where Langdon had to read a document in the Vatican archives. Sienna was so smart for most of the movie it leaves the question: why did she even need Langdon?
Each Robert Langdon film raises the stakes of the previous one – The Da Vinci Code was about personal survival and an issue that in all respects was minor for most people: Angels and Demons was about Langdon and his allies trying to stop a bomb destroying Rome and Inferno is about Langdon saving humanity. The idea of an eco-warrior billionaire wanting to kill off a large portion of the world’s population to save the planet has been explored before – it was the villain’s plan in Kingsman: The Secret Service and in Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six (the novel where Clancy jumped the shark). Inferno comes across as a cross of a Bond film and Assassin’s Creed – minus the action. Bertrand Zobrist is pretty much a Bond villain – his plan and circumstances are similar to villains from that series, and his ally is a private security company based on a yacht is a Bondesque idea. The whole story has the air of a ’60s or ’70s style Bond film, and the finale during a classical concert would have fitted perfectly for a spy adventure. The Connery/Moore era Bond film were travelogues as well as spy adventures – giving audiences a chance to see manmade and naturals wonders that they were unlikely ever to see in person and the Langdon series would have worked better if it had made in the 60s.
The Assassin’s Creed references come from the fact that the movie is set in the same cities that Ezio visited, it has a historical conspiracy and Irfan Khan’s Mr. Sims had blades coming out his wrists like the assassins in those games. The Assassin’s Creed references also come in some of the imagery of Langdon’s visions of hell and a battle. These senses were when Inferno was at its most visually inventive – replicating Sandro Botticelli’s Map of Hell [a visual representation of Dante’s Inferno] and the battle sequence was based on Giorgio Vasari’s painting The Battle of Marciano: a battle that happened in the 16th Century.
Inferno is the best movie in the Robert Langdon series so far, but considering the low standard of the previous flicks, it’s not much of an accomplishment. It looks pretty because of its locations and the more daring visuals due to Langdon visions; has a grander plot, fine music from Hans Zimmer and altogether a more epic plot. But the Langdon series cannot overcome its illogical plotting – being more a history lesson than entertainment.