Dante’s Inferno is a dark, sprawling 14th century poem that concerns itself with one man’s descent into Hell. Dan Brown’s Inferno is a breathless and twisting 2013 page-turner that concerns itself with one man’s effort to stop the world from turning into Hell. And whereas a big screen adaptation of Dante Aligheri’s epic work would probably be the most disturbing cinematic experience imaginable, Ron Howard’s version of Brown’s work is a top drawer evening in the cinema.
Part action thriller, part mystery, this intelligent blockbuster has all the hallmarks of the previous films in the series, The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons: there are puzzles, complex clues, stunning European landmarks and of course, a middle-aged man running down cobbled side streets a lot. That middle-aged man is Tom Hanks, who again plays Professor Robert Langdon with a real energy. Turning a symbology and semiotics professor into a compelling character could be a challenge in the hands of a lesser actor, but the 60 year-old Oscar winner keeps you on side, even if he does have a slightly annoying tendency to spout trivia and facts in the middle of tense action scenes. But then being half-Bourne flick/half QI episode is kind of the appeal here, isn’t it?
Let’s start with the most important information… Professor Langdon’s dodgy mullet is gone (a far more sensible haircut replaces it). Also new is his sidekick. The Theory of Everything’s Felicity Jones comes in as Sienna, a brilliant doctor with oddly similar interests and expertise as our hero. Their mission? To work out why Langdon has woken up in a Florence hospital with no memory of how he got there. Oh, and there’s the small matter of stopping the release of a deadly plague-like virus that will wipe out humanity. Luckily for our two puzzle experts, it’s a series of anagrams, enigmas and head-scratchers that illuminate their path.
The plague’s origin? The mysterious young billionaire and genius scientist Bertand Zobrist, who believes that the only way to save the world is to wipe out humankind via a population cull à la The Black Death. And, sufficed to say, few people are keen on the idea. The only way to stop the outbreak is to figure out the virus’ location and contain it by deciphering and solving clues, both real and locked inside Langdon’s head (his trippy head trauma-induced Hieronymus Bosch-style visions are packed with hints as to what’s happening).
Fans of Brown’s work won’t be too annoyed by the slight changes to the source material. The chronology of events is slightly different and a more popcorn friendly ending comes in, but these things happen with movie adaptations. Those small amendments aside, we see all the hallmarks of Brown’s work: riddles, Renaissance artwork, historical facts, shady bad guys whose true motives are blurred… And running. Lots and lots of running (mostly down cobbled side streets).
Inferno’s kept captivating by a decent supporting cast including the always-reliable Ben Foster as The Bad Guy (who’s kind of, sort of, a little bit good, really), Borgen’s Sidse Babett Knudsen as Langdon’s love interest and the Hindu superstar Irrfan Khan, who’s excellent as the sarcastic boss of a private security firm who gets drawn into proceedings. But by far the star of the show has to be the production’s location scout. Each clue leads to an even more stunning locale than the last. Which is impressive when you consider that events begin in the iconic Tuscan capital – and home of European art – Florence. The final site – Istanbul’s subterranean aqueduct system The Basilica Cistern is particularly stunning and the perfect place for the film’s edge-of-the-seat crescendo.
Not often do you find sequels or ‘threequels’ improving on their originals, but we have to say that with its pace and energy Inferno trumps both The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons. It’s well shot, engaging and never lets up. Fans of smart action thrillers will like it. Fans of the books will like it even more. Fans of films with lots of lots of running down cobbled side streets will absolutely love it.