Tom Hanks has played some seriously iconic characters since his first acting credit in 1980.
Whether a cowboy or a soldier, a ship’s captain or shipwrecked, he inhabits his roles like he was made to play every single one of them.
Forrest Gump, Woody in the Toy Story films, Chuck in Cast Away, Captain Miller in Saving Private Ryan, Captain Phillips in Captain Phillips, Walt Disney in Saving Mr Banks, Captain Sullenberger in Sully, and Professor Robert Langdon Dan Brown and Ron Howard’s Da Vinci Code films. It’s an impressive list and he’s still going strong.
IMHO one of these roles has, after two previous films, run it’s course.
As Robert Langdon in 2006’s The Da Vinci Code, Hanks zigged and zagged his way from Paris to London tracking down the Holy Grail while evading maniacal pursuers and, while poorly received by critics, was not only a box office success, but an energetic, fast paced thriller that carried the viewer along on a tide of puzzles and (widely disputed) religious history.
The follow up, Angels and Demons, whilst written and published first was retooled into a sequel reuniting director Ron Howard and star Hanks.
Howard skipped Brown’s third book, The Lost Symbol, citing difficulties in writing a satisfactory adaptation, as well as the themes feeling too similar to the first two books and films.
So, we have Inferno. Having just returned from a screening I’m still coming to terms with how disappointing I found it.
“Hugely Irritating and Utterly Unbelievable” I think were the two phrases that ran though my head for the two or so hours it took to get it over with.
Langdon regains consciousness in a mysterious hospital room, being watched over by Dr Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones in a lab coat).
He is suffering memory loss and harrowing visions as a result of a bullet grazing his scalp. As he struggles to regain his composure and identify who and where he is, an Italian policewoman arrives at the hospital shooting another doctor, in a hallway outside Langdon’s room.
Brooks manages to help Langdon escape to the sanctuary of her apartment where they discover he is carrying a “biotube” that can only be opened with a thumbprint.
Naturally it opens, having been coded to Langdon, and a hand carved bone pops out, the first clue in unraveling the mystery of “Inferno”.
Which turns out to be a plague created by billionaire “transhumanist” scientist Betrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) that will wipe out 95% of the world’s population, providing a solution to the escalating overcrowding threatening the survival of the planet.
Personally I thought this was fascinating concept, reminiscent of Stephen King’s The Stand – what would happen if a plague swept the globe and decimated the human race? Would it be a drastic solution to finding a parking spot on a Saturday morning down at the local shops?
Or something a little more disturbing?
Hardly a new idea in storytelling, plagues have been plot points in recent titles like Contagion, Planet of the Apes and World War Z, which Inferno appears to have been influenced by, with both shaky camerawork to imply urgency and confusion, as well as being completely preposterous.
Despite the first film being banned in a dozen countries, Inferno clearly has its sights set on being a global juggernaut.
Hanks represents the USA, Jones – the UK, Irrfan Khan – India, Omar Sy – Africa, Sidse Babett Knudsen – Denmark, and on it goes.
I missed patches of dialogue thanks to thick accents (a bad combination with my own impaired hearing), but the dialogue I did catch was memorable if only for it’s sheer obviousness.
At every turn, Langdon’s pursuers, whether they be goodies or baddies, demonstrate their ineptness as, equally conveniently, Langdon and his accomplice escape overwhelming odds.
Unlike a Bond or Bourne film, where creativity is used to avoid capture or execution, it is Langdon’s encyclopedic knowledge of history, (as well as the odd behind the scenes museum tour) that allows him to employ every hidden passage, secret tunnel, or low garden wall to either exit or enter premises and a quick getaway as the need arises.
There are no situations where it feels like Langdon will genuinely be caught off guard.
When finally this does happen, it is so at odds with the flow of the film, that it jars badly and adds an additional layer of implausibility to an already ridiculous story.
It is not much of a spoiler to tell you that with the film building to it dramatic conclusion as the World Health Organization attempts to disarm the “Doomsday” device, the entire production feels like it is going through the motions, and the film struggles to overcome a cinematic climax you’ve seen a thousand times before.
I’m scared for what the future might bring – a possible fourth Robert Langdon film.
“More like Infernal” 2 Stars.