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Movie Review

Fright at the museum in ‘Inferno’

Tom Hanks (with Felicity Jones) returns as Harvard professor Robert Langdon in “Inferno.”Jonathan Prime/Sony Pictures/Sony Pictures

“You can expect nausea, headaches, and dizziness,” says the pert young doctor (Felicity Jones) to Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) after the latter wakes up in the hospital with a concussion. Honestly, though, “Inferno” isn’t that bad.

The third Ron Howard adaptation of Dan Brown’s best-selling books — “The Da Vinci Code” (2006) and “Angels & Demons” (2009) preceded it — is proficient, unnecessary Saturday night moviemaking. “Inferno” actually may be better than the first two movies because it doesn’t treat the source material as Gospel. It’s honestly ridiculous, a Nicolas Cage “National Treasure” puzzle-thriller with a degree in art history.

But Cage at least knows how to loony-tune his way through those movies, and the most dispiriting thing about the Robert Langdon films is how they sap the life energy out of one of our own national treasures, Tom Hanks. As the eminent, mystery-solving Harvard professor of Dan Brown’s fantasy life, Hanks furrows his brow and dashes off to the baptismal font at Il Duomo, in Florence, and gets to say things like “Yes! An anagram!” But the role is fundamental stock leading-man stuff to which the star can bring none of his subversive slyness (as he did in Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies” and even the recent “Sully” — that bar scene, remember?).

“Inferno” is the exact cinematic equivalent of an airport paperback, which is what’s fine and forgettable about it. It begins with Langdon in that hospital in Florence, a wound to his head and no memory of how it happened. Oh, and there’s a grim-faced hit lady (Ana Ularu) on his trail, so he and the doctor, Sienna Brooks, are immediately on the run.


He has less than 24 hours to save the world from . . . well, check the title and know that the plot involves both the Middle Ages and the World Health Organization. The movie’s one long mad dash, like a cracked package tour: If it’s Tuesday, this must be Florence and Venice and Istanbul. And Dante’s Circles of Hell, and Botticelli’s painting of same, and the Hall of 500 in Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio . . .


Langdon and Sienna are led toward the movie’s Doomsday end game by clues left by a wild-eyed tycoon (Ben Foster) who has inconveniently jumped to his death in the opening scene. After a while, you wonder if it wouldn’t have been easier for him to just leave a Post-It on the fridge.

There’s one good twist, though, and a few far-fetched ones, and some solid actors pop up amid the jumbly hand-held action: Jones, Foster, Omar Sy (“The Untouchables”) as a WHO cop, Sidse Babett Knudsen (“Westworld”) as his maybe-evil but maybe-not boss. Hanks hits his marks like the pro he is, and Howard and his production team give us a nice armchair tour of Italian museums, the Hagia Sophia, in Istanbul, and the gloomy waters of the Basilica Cistern beneath it.

Still, the best thing in “Inferno” — by a country mile — is Irrfan Khan (“Jurassic World,” “The Lunchbox”) as Mr. Sims, a.k.a. “The Provost,” an unflappably amoral fellow who heads up a black-ops security company headquartered in a high-tech yacht in the Adriatic. One minute he’s ordering Langdon’s assassination, the next he’s saving Langdon’s life, and Khan plays the character as a weary contractor-consultant who’s having a bad day and doesn’t have the time to explain why he’s much smarter than you.


Hanks, ever the gentleman, stands back and lets Khan steal the movie, and the Provost provides the wit “Inferno” desperately needs when he looks at a bad guy he has just dispatched and says, “Not my best work, but it’ll do for the Italians.” Can the next one of these films please be about him?

★ ★ ½

Directed by Ron Howard. Written by David Koepp, based on the novel by Dan Brown. Starring Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Omar Sy, Irrfan Khan, Ben Foster. At Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs, Jordan’s IMAX, Reading and Natick. 121 minutes. PG-13 (sequences of action and violence, disturbing images, some language, thematic elements, brief sensuality)

Ty Burr can be reached at ty.burr@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.