Inferno is one third of a great movie, then it gets boring

Images like this of Tom Hanks in Hell, seeing people punished in the manners Dante described while mysterious women in plague doctor masks walk through the chaos, lend an intensity to Inferno. Unfortunately, they cut off completely about a third of the way through the film. Images courtesy Columbia Pictures.

Oh, that’s right, Sony owns the rights to this series. That explains it.

In Inferno, the third film adaptation of Dan Brown’s novels, Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) returns to bring more obscure Catholic conspiracy theories into the mainstream. This go around starts with Langdon waking up in a hospital in Florence, Italy after suffering major head trauma and unable to remember the past two days. Soon after he comes to, a policewoman arrives at the hospital to kill him, and his doctor, Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), takes him to her apartment for safekeeping. Langdon discovers he’s already embroiled in a desperate chase to find a virus engineered by the late billionaire psychopath Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), which will release at midnight and wipe out half the human population. For laughably stupid reasons, Zobrist set the virus on a timer and left behind a series of clues to the its location themed around Dante’s Inferno.

The draw of this series has always been its sinister tone, with director Ron Howard finding ways to stuff disturbing supernatural imagery in each of them despite the movies’ general insistence that God isn’t real. Inferno delivers more than any previous installment, as it opens with Langdon frequently hallucinating creatures and concepts from Dante’s Hell on the streets of Florence. This movie has some high-octane disturbing imagery, and it’s exciting in general to see the influential poem finally brought to life.

Inferno opens with a scene of Zobrist fleeing capture by World Health Organization forces and then leaping face-first to his death, then cuts immediately to Langdon waking up from a traumatic head injury. It’s a clever association and an example of the mostly dormant creativity at play in this movie.

Langdon’s amnesia and hallucinations pave the way for an interesting and interestingly told story. Despite clearly not being real, his visions are distressing, vivid and frequent enough to function as a monster stalking him through the movie. He struggles to remember the first half of the story, setting up a clever Memento-like dynamic, while also knowing his mind could betray him at any moment. With these dynamics, Inferno sets itself up as an unnerving tale with an unreliable protagonist and intense themes on judgment and damnation…

…for about the first third of the movie. Then, Langdon gets better, and the movie gets boring.

It can’t be overstated how great it was to see Dante brought to life in this context, not just in general, but for the movie. Zobrist designed his virus to cull the human population, saying its exponential growth had created a “Hell on Earth.” Seeing this visualized is thematically brilliant and gives the movie room to explore the real points Zobrist had. Langdon’s memory issues gave the movie similar room to explore his confusion over who he could trust without being boring or obvious.

Unfortunately, after Langdon gets healthy, that’s exactly what happens. There are no more vivid hallucinations and no more wondering who he can trust, just the same long sequence of boring, predictable double-crosses this series has become known for.

Ten years and three movies in, the core problem with these movies is becoming clear — Robert Langdon, at least his film version, is a terrible, boring character. The movies build him up as this world-renowned expert on symbols and things, but when it comes down to it, he’s really just that one guy who always wins Catholic conspiracy trivia night. No one likes that guy. No one wants to hang out with that guy.

Consortium head Harry “The Provost” Sims (Irrfan Khan) is a much smarter and more interesting character than Langdon, and it’d be nice to see a movie just about him. That won’t happen, though.

He’s essentially a power fantasy character. He’s got a cool name and he’s always being put in situations where his obscure set of skills can be used to literally save the world. The biggest conceit is the women — Langdon has an endless supply of brunettes with heavy accents and equally eclectic, but much more useful, skillsets. Angels & Demons’ female lead, Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer), was a CERN physicist researching anti-matter at the Large Hadron Collider but also had detailed obscure medical knowledge, for instance. Brooks in this film is a doctor who was conveniently obsessed with Langdon as a child and speaks three languages.

The other problem with this character is that the movies set him up to be super smart, but he’s actually kind of dumb. Intelligence isn’t the ability to dramatically solve problems at the last minute, it’s the ability to foresee and avoid them entirely, but it feels like every 15 minutes Langdon gets blindsided by a double-cross he should have seen coming from a mile away. Despite his vast knowledge of Catholic history and being put in situations where that knowledge is useful, he never solves the puzzles until the big Inception music plays and the murderous albino monk is almost upon them. If this character’s critical thinking skills were, like, average, he’d be solving most of the problems he has before they come up.

One more note — Zobrist  talks about the Holocene Extinction like it’s something that isn’t already happening, and that makes me angry. The sixth mass extinction is in progress, it is primarily due to human activity and we will ruin the planet and run out of food if we continue our current trajectory, but we’ve had the technology to reverse those trends for more than a decade. Whether or not we implement it is obviously another story. The point is, just like you shouldn’t listen to what Angels & Demons had to say about CERN, don’t listen to what Inferno has to say about overpopulation because. It’s all actually much more interesting.

Leopold Knopp is a journalism student at the University of North Texas. If you liked this post, you can donate to Reel Entropy here. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook and reach out to me at

The World Health Organization and its fictional paramilitary international police force is a major presence in this movie. It’s all completely made up, of course, but begs some fun questions. Why does the WHO have this kind of infrastructure? Are extinction-level designer viruses really that common in this universe? For someone known for meticulously researching his stories, Dan Brown sure does make up a lot of bullshit.

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