Third Installment in "Robert Langdon" Saga Lackluster
By David Lynch
“Is this supposed to be a puzzle, or a challenge?” a weary and confused Tom Hanks asks about 20 minutes into “Inferno.”
At this point, you’d think his character, historian Robert Langdon, would know the drill. Having survived global conspiracy after global conspiracy, does he really expect a day that starts with him not remembering how he ended up in a hospital to conclude with anything other than following the trail of another obsessive of some kind?
Apparently not. But then again, three movies into his Robert Langdon/Da Vinci Code series, director Ron Howard still can’t figure out how to make a movie that integrates action with its scholarly basis as well as the source material does. His third attempt, as a result, is less thrilling than staying up all night to study for a history exam.
If there’s one thing to appreciate about these films, its their unrelenting drive to turn Hanks into an action hero, though I’m not sure how much more he can take. The stakes are easily at their highest this time around, with betrayals, hellish visuals (literally) and a pervasive soundtrack to boot.
Using all the above, Howard works to create a film with more gusto than his previous offerings, but a lack of any real tension keeps this from anything more than average.
Performances by Hanks, Felicity Jones and Ben Foster are passable, though at this stage of his career, it’s clear Hanks really needs the right script to deliver an immersive performance. Not that an Oscar-worthy turn would have made “Inferno” stand out from “Da Vinci Code” and “Angels and Demons.”
The frenetic blur of exposition and ambiguous details at the start leaves the audience unengaged. Unless you very recently studied “Dante’s Inferno,” it’s hard to be entertained by the first act of “Inferno.”
Like its predecessors, “Inferno” uses similar patterns of exposition-running-exposition-gunning, making it hard to focus on the messages of the sluggish narrative formula.
Until the final act, that is. Thanks to a much-needed twist, the final 40 minutes or so provide some of the best in the franchise (ugh). While Howard still could have made it easier to follow, the climax provides its thrills, particularly with an appealing duel of contrasting philosophies that I wish was more fleshed out over the course of the film. It provides most, if not all, of the film’s emotional energy.
It’s just a matter of getting to that point without leaving the theater and asking for a refund, which is easier said than done.
David Lynch is an award-winning film critic.