Inferno, the latest Dan Brown novel turned into a movie, comes out this weekend. An intriguing thrill-ride, it holds together about as well as the previous films in the series, and takes place in fantastic historical European settings. But it does not follow the other films in one key respect.
Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code caused a stir in 2003, as did the film version in 2006. That movie suggested not only that the Bible was compiled by Constantine, but that Jesus had a child with Mary Magdalene. Naturally, the story is fiction, so it does not really represent a threat to the faith, but the claims in the movie would be devastating if true. The sequel, Angels and Demons, was slightly less unChristian, but still presented the Catholic Church as anti-science.
Inferno, by contrast, actually does not use fiction to subtly attack any form of Christianity — not even the Catholic Church! Rather than the Catholic Church or a secret organization within it, the villain is a bio-terrorist. And rather than religion or the corruption of religion, the driving idea is overpopulation.
Like The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons before it, this movie opens in the middle of the action. Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) wakes up after a trauma, lacking short term memory, and unsure whom to trust. The film opens in mystery, and the story thrives on surprising twists and turns, in classic Dan Brown fashion.
Also in Brown fashion, however, the story makes unbelievable leaps. Langdon reads an obscure line of poetry, and suddenly knows exactly where to go, making surprising rational jumps — but that’s part of the charm. Langdon is the smartest man, and so he sees the secret meanings no one else would.
After awaking, Langdon meets the doctor Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), who immediately agrees to help him. After a shoot-out, the pair decide they can trust no one. Fleeing for their lives and trying to discover secrets while remaining hidden themselves, Langdon and Brooks lead the audience in a virtual tour of gorgeous and historic Mediterranean cities: Florence, Venice, Budapest. Chases take place in grand historical landmarks, and for that reason alone the film is entertaining virtual tourism.
Yet after an impressively intriguing start, Inferno becomes painfully predictable. The story thrives on suspense and intricate plot lines. One or two of the reveals strain credulity, but the tale is compelling from start to finish.
Fascinating characters, a compelling story, and the slowly lifting confusion make for a highly entertaining film, with stunning views of historical landmarks. The Inferno threat is more believable than those of The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, and it carries none of the religious baggage.
Nevertheless, the movie is not without its weaknesses: logical leaps, convoluted storylines, and a rather drawn-out ending. The start is stronger than the finish, and the final reveal leaves the audience wanting more than it gets. All the same, Inferno is a solid piece of entertainment for the mystery-seekers among us — especially those who enjoy virtual tourism.
Inferno may not have an unorthodox religious message, but it’s stronger for it. For once, a Dan Brown story can stand — or fall — on its own merits.
Check out the trailer on the next page.