Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, shame on both of us.
— Stephen King
Ok, so that was a bit of an exaggeration. But yes, we can all safely agree that both The Da Vinci Code, and its sequel Angels & Demons (which were both much better films that most give them credit for) were unfairly panned upon release. Some of those murmurs about Da Vinci Code getting booed for 15 minutes by angry Frenchmen immediately after its Cannes premiere in 2006 are still invoked when reminiscing about notorious cinematic disasters. But here’s the thing – and once again, this is something most would agree on – both films have, in the years that followed, developed quite an audience at home.
And perhaps this is the only reason Tom Hanks and director Ron Howard returned to make another. It would also explain why Inferno comes seven long years after Angels & Demons (an unusually long gap between films by any standard), and at a time when Dan Brown’s source novels are at their least popular. It’s difficult to get pumped for Inferno, but this time, they have that secret weapon (at least in our minds), don’t they? They have Irrfan Khan… But more on that later.
Inferno immediately stands apart from its two predecessors – in all the wrong ways. Right from the opening credits (which have the look and feel of something put together by a crunched-for-time YouTube vlogger), it is clear that this time, Ron Howard didn’t have the luxury of a tentpole budget. But with so much talent involved, you’d think that they’d find a way around that, wouldn’t you? Maybe they’d embrace that pulp fiction origins of Dan Brown’s novels and make it more campy. But no.
It was a common complaint for both The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons that they took themselves too seriously – which is a fair criticism (but not necessarily one that I agree with). As ridiculous as these films are, there sure is a lot of heavy-handed exposition. It’s the one thing that fans of the series can never reasonably counter. Sadly, Inferno has so much more of this.
The plot, this time around, is even more ludicrous than that one time Robert Langdon found the ‘last living descendant of Jesus Christ’. It is overstuffed with more red herrings and rug pulls and unnecessary characters than the number of times Tom Hanks grimaces that famous Tom Hanks grimace. No joke, this film had, at one point, 3 villains and 1 Terminator chasing Hanks across Florence.
n a half-hearted attempt to shake things up (this series is soooo cookie cutter), Hanks’ Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is given amnesia this time – like some sort of academic Jason Bourne. It is written in law that in the events that follow, Langdon must, in strictly the same order, enlist the help of an exotic woman, run hand in hand across exotic European locations, ‘solve’ cryptic puzzles displaying stunning leaps of logic, get chased by a silent assassin, while a shady organization traces his every move. And this time, it isn’t even scored to beautiful Hans Zimmer music. Instead, it is scored to clangy, jarring Hans Zimmer music.
Which brings us to the part we’ve all been waiting so patiently for. Thanks for sticking around. You’re going to hear about this soon enough so you might as well find out about it here first: I don’t know how surprising this is, but Irrfan Khan is barely in this film. In fact, Robert Langdon’s Mickey Mouse watch has a more defined (and emotionally resonant) character arc.
For some reason, Hollywood insists on casting Irrfan – who usually plays rather down-to-earth characters back home – as a steely businessman. It’s slightly encouraging that Irrfan is in it at all though (his character had no reason to be Indian, and sounds, at least in the scenes in which Irrfan is in the groove, like a British gent)
But honestly, if there’s one actor who got dealt a sorry hand in this film, it is Ben Foster, who plays the villainous Bertrand Zobrist. He is an immensely underrated star who, probably as a result of bad draft after bad draft of David Koepp’s script, ends up spending virtually the entire movie on a monitor – and dead. It also doesn’t help that his grand scheme resembles that of a Bond villain’s and his only defining characteristic is that he is a billionaire.
It took substantial self-control to resist making fire jokes, but it’s now or never, so here goes. Inferno, despite the best efforts of an always-dependable Tom Hanks, burns up in a raging fireball.