Film Review: Inferno (M15+) (USA, 2016) entertains with a healthy dose of schlocky fun

I remember when I first heard of The Da Vinci Code novel by Dan Brown, I couldn’t really understand the hype of it all and how it became a best-seller. The story felt like it was a more mature version of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, since they both involve going on a quest to obtain the Holy Grail. And as for the movie, I thought it was a ridiculous, dull and overly serious bore.

However, the sequel, Angels and Demons, was a nice improvement over Code mainly due to the actors being more engaged as well as swift pacing, which made the story more engaging and entertaining. The story was still ridiculous but it never felt serious enough for it to be insulting.

So when I heard that Inferno was being released, my expectations were actually positive, as I was hoping for the film to be an improvement over Demons. And when you have a cast with such talents as Felicity Jones, Irrfan Kahn, Omar Sy and others,  it was reasonable to feel mildly excited about the release. Will it offer a Hell-acious experience or will it offer a time in Hell?

The film starts off with transhumanist scientist Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) running way from authorities from the World Health Organization, led by Bruder (Omar Sy). Zobrist then commits suicide which sets off a series of events which could lead to death of billions.

Meanwhile, Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) awakens in a hospital room in Florence, Italy, with no memory of what has transpired over the last few days. Relating to the death of Zobrist and the events that are being set, Langdon finds himself becoming a major target.

With the help of Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) and his knowledge of symbology (surprise!), Langdon will try to regain his lost memories as well as face the biggest imminent threat he has ever come across.

As ridiculous and outlandish as these stories are, they all have their moments of schlocky fun and Inferno has it in spades. Retaining the fast pace and the ticking-clock type of storytelling of Angels and Demons while rarely going in to dull territory of The Da Vinci Code, Inferno entertains once again. The plot unravels in a couple of days, unlike Code, which spans a lot more, which adds much-needed urgency.

It also helps that there are more improvements as these films continues on. For example, Robert Langdon is portrayed as vulnerable and his mind (known as his sharpest weapon) has been majorly compromised. Not only does this give Hanks more to do with his performance, but it also adds tension to the story, knowing that his character can easily be compromised. Tom Hanks, as always, is dependable and seems to be just as engaged like he was in Demons, which is a plus.

Another improvement are the supporting characters. Usually the characters in the previous films were portrayed more as plot devices and causes for artificial tension – for example they screw up at narrative cues to force-feed tension to the audience. But in Inferno, the supporting actors add life to their characters and they are active to the plot.

Felicity Jones is endearingly spirited as the knowledgeable Sienna Brooks, and provides a nice compliment to Hanks. The film is at its best when the two are together, solving riddles and anagrams. And due to Langdon’s injury, it provides Jones the role of being the superior one, and it pays off with some lightly comical moments.

Irrfan Khan is a hoot as the slimy Harry Sims, showing class and superiority to an obscene amount. He even gets in on the action scenes and comes across as a bad-ass. I wish there was more of him on-screen. Omar Sy was well-chosen as Bruder, since he has an inherent likability to him; it makes his character hard to decipher where his allegiance is.

Even smaller roles are more distinct than usual. Ben Foster always has a knack for playing off-kilter characters and it hasn’t wavered a bit for his small role as Zobrist. Sidse Babett Knudsen (so good in After the Wedding) makes the most out of her small role as the head of the World Health Organization. The arc she shares with Hanks is contrived and a bit superfluous, but it does affect and that is mainly due to Knudsen. And last but not least, Ana Ularu makes an impression as the tough-as-nails enforcer, Vayentha.

As much goofy fun as I had with Inferno, there are some glaring flaws that will definitely be an issue to audiences. The story can come across as ridiculous and there are many plot-holes (Like how does Langdon remember his e-mail address and his password so quickly?). Even some of the dialogue comes off as unintentionally hilarious at times (Freeze! World Health Organization! – one bellows with authority).

Themes such as overpopulation and curing the world have been used many times in films/TV (i.e. Kingsman – The Secret Service, Utopia [UK series] and even Grimsby!), but for a half-serious film like Inferno, the themes become underdeveloped and adds nothing new to the story.

There are also some issues with the story that comes across as needlessly forgotten like in the ending, why was there no mention of Irrfan Khan‘s character? Or how is it that Langdon can get away with what he did without any consequences?

But other than those flaws, Inferno is a fun time at the movies if you don’t take it seriously. With enthusiastic supporting actors, the fast pace and its ridiculously straight-faced story, I hope to see one more of these films in this unlikely franchise.

Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Inferno hits cinemas tomorrow, October 13th.