Movie Review: Inferno
By Matthew Huntley
November 3, 2016
Zobrist was famous for his lectures on the end of the world and preached that because humans ignored the signs and solutions to our overpopulation epidemic, Earth will be unable to sustain its some eight billion people. “So far there have been five mass extinctions and unless we take drastic action, the next will be our own. It's one minute to midnight,” Zobrist says.
We eventually learn what Zobrist thought he could do to curb the effects of too many people living on the planet and using up all its resources, but his untimely death means someone else has to take over. We hear him address an unknown character, “You are my contingency plan.” Could he have been talking to Robert? Is that why Robert is in possession of a Faraday Pointer kept inside a vile only he can access? The content of the pointer is a modified version of Botticelli's “Map of Hell," which he illustrated for Dante's “Divine Comedy.” Upon the map are various clues Zobrist added in order to lead the onlooker toward what Zobrist thought would be humankind's salvation. But what do they mean and where do they lead? Luckily Sienna was a child prodigy and loves solving puzzles, so she's a perfect aid to help Robert solve the mystery. In fact, she first met Robert when she was 9-years-old, which is how she knew who he was when he first arrived at the hospital, and after she helps him escape, their quest begins, not only to try to survive those out to kill them, but also prevent another crisis.
If you've seen The Da Vinci Code and/or Angels & Demons, then the setup for Inferno will be familiar, perhaps with he exception of Langdon being initially handicapped. But this latter aspect offers a refreshing twist because it gives Langdon a vulnerability, which makes him more interesting and sympathetic. There's also a bit of role reversal as Langdon, a renowned professor, suddenly finds himself at the mercy of his “student,” Sienna. We see her teaching him a thing or two as they unearth objects and translate messages. When Robert mentions he needs a copy of a specific book to look something up, Sienna replies, “Copy of the book? That's quaint; I use Google.”
Also shaking the structure up a bit are the supporting characters, who have more of a presence and purpose this time around. In addition to Agent Bouchard, Elizabeth Sinskey (Sidse Babett Knudsen) is another agent at the WHO who has a personal history with Robert. As the story progresses, we actually wonder if they'll end up together in the end, which is surprising because the answer is usually so obvious. Adding further dynamism and even humor to the mix is Harry Sims, well played by Irrfan Khan, who's becoming more prolific and irreplaceable with every movie he appears in. Sims runs the private security firm hired by Zobrist and is the keeper of many of the story's secrets, which Khan doesn't deliver through dull exposition but rather through sly wit and humor.
In the grand scheme of things, Inferno doesn't bring anything new to the table, but it has everything it needs to be a fun, engaging thriller: characters who are articulate and quick-thinking; exotic locations and imagery (from Florence to Venice to Istanbul); and a strong sense of rhythm and energy. Collectively, these build up toward a standard yet still exciting conclusion and I'd be curious to know how much of the ending was shot on location in the actual cistern underneath the Hagia Sophia basilica in Istanbul and how much was recreated with sets. Whatever the case, it's a great setting to end a thriller, which of course boils down to the last possible minute and involves a perfunctory digital readout where red denotes catastrophe and green denotes safety. I probably don't have to tell you what the final color is, but it doesn't matter. What does matter is the movie is well made and entertaining, and even though we're aware it's manipulating us every step of the way, we still watch it with enthusiasm. And like Brown's literary page-turners, we're not likely to remember much about Inferno too long after the fact. It's the kind of short-lived entertainment that becomes less enjoyable the more you think about it, which is another reason you should just let the movie think for you.