REVIEW: ‘Inferno’ simply lacks narrative spark

Inferno, Tom Hanks and director Ron Howard’s return to the adventures of author Dan Brown’s preeminent symbology scholar Robert Langdon, proves to be yet another case of “going to the well one too many times.” Belabored, at times even boring, the film serves as further evidence that Langdon’s exploits are far better enjoyed when read rather than brought to life on screen.

It’s not all terrible. In fact, the film is beautifully shot, and works well as a travelogue for its locations throughout Europe.

However, despite the game efforts of director, cast, and crew, Inferno simply lacks spark. It’s a puzzle without a hook to get you invested in solving the puzzle in the first place.

What’s it about

This time, Langdon starts his adventure at a significant disadvantage. He wakes in a hospital in Italy, suffering from debilitating headaches and short-term retrograde amnesia.

His ER doctor, Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), tells him he was brought in with a head wound. She doesn’t get to tell him much more before they’re on the run from people shooting at them.

When they have a moment to breathe, Langdon and Brooks discover a clue to why they’ve become targets. Langdon is carrying a recreation of Sandro Boticelli’s map of Dante Alighieri’s Hell, as described in “The Divine Comedy.”

Langdon, despite his mental state, quickly realizes the recreation has been altered. Levels in Hell were switched around, while letters and symbols were added to the image.

The changes are clues that put the duo on the trail that leads them through Istanbul, Florence, Budapest, Venice. The cities all hold pieces of a puzzle laid out by a billionaire bio-engineer hoping to bring forth a new “inferno”, a plague to cull the world’s population before it grows beyond control.

But Langdon must solve more than simply the madman’s apocalyptic riddles. He has to figure out exactly how he got there in the first place, and who he can trust, as of course, not all is what it seems.

Inferno IMAX one-sheet

Oh, those locations

Like 2006’s The DaVinci Code and 2009’s Angels and Demons, Inferno transports audiences to breathtaking locations and wondrous sights around the world. To properly present the artistic and architectural marvels visited in the story, Howard once again calls upon cinematographer Salvatore Totino, who worked on the previous two films.

The photography that results from the collaboration might have you booking travel to those locations the minute you leave the theater. For avid travelers and students of history and architecture, there’s just so much eye candy to enjoy in Inferno.

There’s almost enough, in fact, to forgive all the tedious exposition necessary to get the characters racing to the next location.


Talk, run, talk, run

Alas, so much of Inferno‘s puzzle requires explaining the significance of the locations and their connections to Dante. Because of this, the film falls into a predicable pattern.

Langdon and Sienna find a puzzle piece, figure out how it fits, and look alarmed. They then start running when they notice their pursuers have caught up. Rinse. Repeat.

Twists and turns in the narrative do little to change that formula except shuffle around the participants. An hour in, and the film’s rhythm feels tired and rote. At that point, audiences may just be keeping notes on the sites they want to visit on vacation.

Performances uneven

Even the A-list cast in Inferno manages to disappoint. Hanks and Jones have very little chemistry, and their scenes together feel forced.

Further, this is one of those films where Hanks fails to disappear into the role. Yes, the script incorporates details that are essential Langdon, but it’s still just Tom Hanks running around Europe.

If anything, it’s the international members of the cast that stand out. Acclaimed Hindi cinema star Irrfan Khan (The Life of Pi) delivers a delightfully understated turn as the efficient and matter-of-fact head of one of the groups chasing Langdon. Meanwhile, Danish screen star Sidse Babett Knudsen shines as a World Health Organization exec also tracking Langdon and the plague.

But as a whole, the human cast of the film can’t compete with the splendor of Inferno‘s locations. It’s those amazing places that are the real stars of the film, the stars you’re likely to remember long after the credits roll.

Worth seeing?

If you enjoyed the first two films, then Inferno might be worth a look this weekend. At the very least, its worth a look when it comes to home video, though the big screen would be more immersive an experience.

Fans of the books should steer clear, however. As executed here, there’s no way the film experience can possibly compare to how it unfolded in one’s imagination. In fact, the film might prove to be a reductive experience.


Starring Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Irrfan Khan, Omar Sy, Ben Foster and Sidse Babett Knudsen. Directed by Ron Howard.
Running Time: 121 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, disturbing images, some language, thematic elements and brief sensuality.

Felix Albuerne
Felix Albuerne
One-time Blockbuster Video manager, textbook editor, trivia host, and community college English/Humanities teacher. Now a digital media producer, part-time film critic, amateur foodie, semi-retired beer snob, unabashed geek, and still very much a work in progress.