The forgettable ‘Inferno’ is death by history lessons

Tom Hanks and Felicity Jones evade their pursuit in “Inferno.”
Photo: Courtesy / Columbia Pictures

Two stars

Inferno Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Ben Foster. Directed by Ron Howard. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday citywide.

When Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) was introduced in 2006’s The Da Vinci Code, he was an unassuming professor of symbology using his knowledge of ancient art and artifacts to solve the murder of one museum curator. Three movies in, he’s now racing to save the entire world, using that same knowledge to track a deadly pathogen that could kill half the people on the planet. Despite the absurdly raised stakes, though, Inferno never feels particularly urgent, and everyone involved, including Hanks and returning series director Ron Howard, seems to be just going through the motions. Even the educational asides (this time mostly about Dante) turn out to have very little to do with the actual threat, which isn’t connected to any secret order or religious sect.

Based on the fourth of Dan Brown’s Langdon novels, Inferno brings Langdon back to Italy, where he wakes up disoriented in a Florence hospital, suffering from a head injury and unable to recall the past two days. With the help of a remarkably (perhaps suspiciously?) resourceful doctor, Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), Langdon attempts to piece together his involvement in the hunt for a bioengineered virus created by a fanatical billionaire (Ben Foster). This involves a lot of the same running and hiding in historical monuments and museums as in the past two movies, but little of the sometimes fun geekery those stories afforded.

Inferno is a mostly plodding thriller without a compelling villain (Foster’s evil tech mogul shows up primarily in flashbacks and recorded messages) and or even a compelling protagonist (Langdon has not gotten any more interesting over the course of three movies). The plot twists are both far-fetched and perfunctory, the performances are bland and the frenetic shooting style is ill-suited for the generally staid Howard. Langdon seems pretty content to pore over ancient texts; maybe the movies should finally leave him alone.

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