Oh, those sweeping shots of Florence and Istanbul. Ah, the Renaissance palazzos. And the inevitable anagram hidden in a classic painting, and the frantic quest that elevates perusals of museum stacks into thrilling set pieces. Yes, Dan Brown’s best-selling hero and the world’s most beleaguered symbologist, Prof. Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), is back for another adventure. But this time his puzzle-minded foes have subbed out da Vinci’s Mona Lisa for Botticelli’s map of Dante’s hell.
A decade has passed since Hanks teamed with director Ron Howard for the film adaptation of The Da Vinci Code. It was the second Langdon novel, but the first to turn the bookish hero into a pop culture phenomenon. They followed that up with 2009’s Angels & Demons. Inferno proves that the filmmaking duo still know how to string together art, mystery, and the occasional plot contrivance. On the third go-round Langdon uses his cryptology skills in a race against the clock to foil Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), a fanatical scientist who plans to wipe out billions of people with a plague. When we first catch up with Langdon, he awakens in a hospital in Florence, under the care of Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), with no memory of how he got to Italy. He’s been injured—by an apparent gunshot to the head, no less—and is suffering from partial flashbacks. Despite his wounds and with pursuers closing in, Langdon miraculously manages to escape and begins to put together why he’s in Florence in the first place.
Langdon and Brooks spot a clue in Botticelli’s 15th-century painting The Abyss of Hell, and from there the adventure takes off. The riddle-unraveling pair must hunt for the next piece of the puzzle while evading the forces doing everything they can to stop them, in this case the World Health Organization and a SPECTRE-like security firm led by “The Provost” Harry Sims (Irrfan Khan). And yet, every step of the way Langdon is able to pull together his cognitive abilities to slip by yet again. Who knew that memorizing the secret passages out of Florence’s Uffizi Gallery could be so practical?
The always likable Hanks is still the perfect professor with the charming touch—and don’t expect a single bead of sweat to pollute his brow as he races through steamy southern Europe. But it is the early scenes with rising star Jones, playing the bright young doctor Brooks, that are the most intriguing. Bourne it is not, but the twists come with enough regularity to keep the squishier parts of the plot from mucking up the works. Inferno may not have the zeitgeisty draw of its predecessors, but for those who haven’t read the book, it’s a diverting caper with a familiar face. B