Movie Review: "Inferno" (2016)

“Inferno” is the third of Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon novels to be turned into films by director Ron Howard with star Tom Hanks. The basic notion of Langdon’s world is that the man knows all about signs and symbols and art and the renaissance so that he can go around the world (or at least Europe) and stop heinous acts from being committed.

This time out, the act in question is particular horrific as billionaire Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) has decided that he’s going to infect the world with a virus that will wipe out half of the Earth’s population. As Zobrist explains it, there are too many people in the world and overpopulation will destroy the planet. The audience is repeatedly treated to a TED Talk-like speech where Zobrist explains exponential population growth and that we’re oh-so-close to our own demise.

Zobrist is actually dead before the movie begins, which does make for an interesting twist, but he’s set his plan to save the planet in motion and Langdon has less than a day to recover his memory of the last 48 hours and save the world. As “Inferno” starts, Langdon is actually in a hospital bed with amnesia and no idea that the world is about to change drastically. Slowly recovering over the course of the story, he rushes around Italy with the help of a doctor, Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), to stop Zobrist’s virus from getting released.

Now, there are a multitude of problems with the film. These go from minor characters disappearing at a crucial moment in order to allow the climactic fight to take place to there simply being way too many groups of people with unknown motives after the virus even though its existence is a secret to ridiculous reversals that come out of left field and have no particular reason for them to exist. There is however one issue that stands out above them all – Zobrist’s ridiculous plan.

Over and over again, we hear Zobrist talk about how after the Earth got to a billion people it only took another century to get to two billion and then a half century more to get to four, and now we’re at almost eight. So, his plan is to fix this forever by killing half the world’s population; taking us down to just under four billion.

Again: the plan is to forever fix overpopulation by killing half the world’s population.

How is Zobrist not well aware that, according to the population growth curve he himself is using in his doom-and-gloom scenario, the population will bounce back to where we currently are in under 50 years? There is no talk of the virus doing anything beyond killing people. There is no talk that it will leave billions sterile (which would slow down but not fix what Zobrist sees as a problem). There is no discussion that coming out of the massacre people will be smarter about repopulating. It is really just “we will forever fix the problem by cutting the numbers to what they were less than a century ago.”

When that huge logic gap is added into to the other problems listed above, when the puzzles aren’t that clever nor that numerous, when the only way to slow Langdon down to the human speed of thought is to give him amnesia and a crushing headache at the start of the movie, the whole thing just crumbles. It doesn’t matter that Hanks is still fun; that Irrfan Khan as security expert Harry Sims, is a hoot; that Sidse Babett Knudsen is appropriately mysterious as WHO operative Elizabeth Sinskey. There is just no way to stay involved when the rest of it is so dumb.

And “Inferno” is a movie that begs you to stay involved. The pace Howard gives the thing is relentless, but that pace seems to be there only so that we are kept as off-balance as Langdon, so that we don’t see all the holes in the story. Some of the action is really great as well – there are more than a few brutal moments that will cause audience members to cringe.

It is just not enough, and it doesn’t matter how many good actors you put in the movie (not yet mentioned is Omar Sy), when the whole thing is that silly it can’t work. “Inferno” is full of distractions, but even the sum total of those distractions doesn’t make up for the shortcomings.


photo credit: Columbia Pictures

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