‘Inferno’ Was Damned From The Start

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HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 2.0/5.0
Rating: 2.0/5.0

CHICAGO – You can’t keep a good conspiracy down. Tom Hanks returns to a role we thought had joined the pages of history his character was so eager to uncover. Like the previous films in the franchise, “Inferno” promises to deliver a new problem to solve even though they never attempt to fix any of the cinematic and narrative flaws from its past.

Hanks returns with increasingly diminished gusto as he is unwittingly put in the same world saving position. The problem with the character of Robert Langdon is that he is a serious person put in very serious situations but with increasingly preposterous build up. He’s not the Indiana Jones that the franchise desperately wants him to be viewed as. If anything he comes closer to the Nicolas Cage character from “National Treasure”. The reason these two characters are successful is because they embrace the comedy of the situation. Even though they’re put in dire situations, the characters are portrayed with a glint of undeniable humor that reassures the audience that they are also in on the joke. The joke being of course that no matter how many facts are being thrown at us there is still an element of ludicrousness that the film needs to unabashedly embrace.

Returning writer David Koepp (“Angels and Demons”) ring stores another story that shows he didn’t quite learn from his past mistakes. With a film so heavy in history, Koepp seems to be disregarding his own I’m bringing us a film still marred with the sins of its past. The hardest thing to swallow with these films is how they try to praise intellectuality in one scene but spend the rest of the film insulting the audience’s intelligence. Instead of feeding us breadcrumbs like a good mystery-thriller should, “Inferno” instead lob loaves of bread and tries to play it off as subtlety. Sure, we get the message that the writer wants us to get but the engaging part of these kinds of films is not the destination but the journey. It never feels like we’re treated like anything more than children. In fact, most of the exposition in the film feels like a children’s show where they tell the audience to find a clue that is blatantly placed on-screen there for them.

Tom Hanks and Felicity Jones star in Columbia Pictures’ “Inferno”
Photo credit: Sony Pictures

Their attempt to change this kind of dynamic comes in the form of trying to emulate the same confusion the audience usually has while watching these films and having the main character experience them. The only problem is that as the character begins finding his bearings, we’re still completely lost in a foreign land without a compass. The logic used to reach certain conclusions is tangential at best. When the answers aren’t painfully obvious, they are frustratingly incoherent. That means that we have to to see how many nonsensical backroads the film will take to reach the transparently obvious conclusion and finally discover the villain we’ve known was there since the beginning.

Director Ron Howard unambitiously makes this third franchise film by mostly keeping the cinematic style the same but exponentially increasing the use of computer-generated scenes. As Robert Langdon is recovering at the beginning of the film, we are continuously shown fever dreams that range from depictions of Dante’s hell to Crusade-era battlefields. Well, I happily welcome any change in this film’s formulaic dynamic, “Inferno’s” visual choices don’t make sense and muddle an already problematic narrative. Like the previous films, the greatest purpose “Inferno” serves is to provide a beautiful historical and architectural tour from around the world. We are given the chance to visit museums and other historical landmarks from around the world. These are places that we hope to one day visit but most likely never will. The only price we have to pay to see these gems is to endure an increasingly absurd storyline with no payoff.

Three films in and Tom Hanks struggles to bring charm to a character that usually falls flat. His character Langdon tends to be the dumbest smart person in the room. When he is not missing straightforward clues, he’s drawing conclusions from seemingly thin air. It’s not that his character is unlikable, it’s just that at this point we’ve seen everything Hanks has to offer the role. The most refreshing aspect of the film comes in the form of Felicity Jones. She offers a breath of fresh air to this increasingly dense franchise, even if her real role in the film lacks any disguise. “Inferno” offers a magnificent cast but when it comes to utilization, heavy-hitters like Omar Sy and Ben Foster are criminally underused.

Omar Sy in Columbia Pictures’ “Inferno,” starring Tom Hanks and Felicity Jones
Photo credit: Sony Pictures

That is just one of many crimes to add to the franchise’s ever-growing rap sheet. The sins of the previous films weigh too heavy on this third installment, never letting “Inferno” reach the heavenly heights it so desperately wants to soar to. Each sequel makes it sink lower and lower, reaching new levels and damning “Inferno” to a hell of its own making.

”Inferno” opens everywhere on October 28th. Featuring Tome Hanks, Felicity Jones, Omar Sy, Irrfan Khan, Ben Foster, Sidse Babett Knudsen and Ana Ularu. Screenplay by David Koepp. Directed by Ron Howard. Rated “PG-13”

Jon Espino, film and video game critic, HollywoodChicago.com

Film & Video Game Critic

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