I was in Catholic middle school when The Da Vinci Code hit theaters in 2006. The film adaptation of Dan Brown’s novel ignited a fiery debate among fans of the book, and fans of … well … religion. I was 14, and I believed Dan Brown uncovered the mystery of a lifetime. Of course, he didn’t, but try telling that to a middle schooler who spent too much time on the internet.
It was fun to believe the new millennium would be an era of revelation, where we at last unveil the shadowy figures who have pulled society’s strings for the last two thousand years. Again, those were my awkward teenage years. Ten years later, as Dan Brown’s fourth Catholic conspiracy novel is adapted into yet another movie, I’m cringing at myself. Can even an apologist of the series like me withstand the newest Robert Langdon threequel, Inferno?
After The Da Vinci Code, the Earth didn’t rain brimstone because we defied God with a thriller paperback. Instead, we got a movie starring Tom Hanks, who appears again in Inferno. Based on Brown’s fourth book in the series, Hanks’s Harvard professor stops pissing off the Catholic Church and instead races against Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), a tech billionaire with a god complex who threatens the globe with a viral outbreak. The clues he finds through Dante Alighieri, discussions of the Dark Ages, and the Black Death are cute, but they all lack the wild intrigue from previous plots, and the stakes have been raised so high in this third film that the viewer just feels numb. More seemed to hang in the balance when Langdon hung out with Jesus Christ’s descendant.
The secret to enjoying airport books is knowing they will only ask so much of you. Brown’s work is best read on dreaded commutes, and his whole oeuvre — historical-driven thrillers with medieval locales and tinges of sexual tension — is attractive for adults who crave adventure but not a real challenge. There is no cinematic universe built in Inferno; it’s just the next Robert Langdon adventure, accessible to all, regardless if you’ve done the reading.
The film exists similarly, presenting America’s Dad, Tom Hanks, as an academic wandering through European tourist attractions with a female friend in tow. This time, she’s a doctor played by Felicity Jones, who power-walks with Langdon on cobblestone whilst evading authorities and dodging gunfire from a rogue who could be a playable character in Tekken. To moviegoers who enjoy violence-free thrillers, Inferno is pay dirt.
It’s also peak Dan Brown, a film with a too-familiar structure that only empowers it whereas it would threaten other franchises. Inferno shares so many of the exact beats and twists as The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons that it’s a wonder Langdon isn’t clueless to the fact that his life repeats. Remember when he was chased by police in Europe? Remember that scary person who tried to kill him? Remember when he was betrayed by an ally? You will, because it happens in all of these movies.
And that’s okay. Inferno is, for better or worse, the movie it wants to be for an audience who demands it. It’s been ten years since my middle-school self indulged in Brown’s books for answers my teacher-nuns wouldn’t give me. Today, I wouldn’t even read Dan Brown to win bar trivia. But like the book it’s based on, Inferno comes with an agreement between viewer and creator: This isn’t transcendent, but it’s fun, and that’s all we came here for.
Inferno releases on October 28.
Photos via Sony Pictures