Movies based on Dan Brown's novels about "Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon" have done progressively less business at the box office even as they've gotten better each time out. Inferno (out now on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD) is an improvement on Angels & Demons, which was a gigantic upgrade over the train wreck that was The Da Vinci Code.
Brown's novels are full of pseudo-intellectual conspiracy theory nonsense, promising to explain a world controlled by shadowy groups who aim to pull the strings behind the curtain. All of them involve more twists and puzzles than can reasonably fit into one movie but each book is also too short to warrant a full 10-episode HBO limited series.
That leaves filmmakers with a problem. They've got to edit out a lot of Brown's laborious puzzle explanations and attempts at zingy wordplay and keep enough action moving things along to engage audiences not obsessed with the minutiae of conspiracy theories.
Director Ron Howard has refined his technique each time out and, this time, they've made an entertaining movie that dumps a huge chunk of the Dante detail from the novel and even edits down the particulars of the genetic engineering science that created the plague that threatens the planet. Inferno is the fourth novel featuring Langdon; Howard wisely skipped The Lost Symbol. There's no way he could've filmed in most of the DC locations featured in the novel and it would've been astronomically expensive to recreate the U.S. Capitol and Washington Monument. Plus, of course, The Lost Symbol is by far the worst of the Langdon novels and anyone interested in the conspiracy could just rent Nic Cage in National Treasure: Book of Secrets.
Felicity Jones is excellent as Sienna Miller, the young doctor who aids Langdon after he wakes up in a hospital bed in Florence, Italy. Ben Foster is particularly good in flashbacks as Bertrand Zobrist, the billionaire tech mogul whose suicide sets the plot in motion. Bonuse: Tom Hanks got rid of the ridiculous haircut he sported in the first two movies.
The bonus material include almost half an hour of extended and bonus scenes. The final cut of the movie runs a very tight two hours but it could've used the longer version of the chase through the Boboli Gardens, a sequence that fans of the novel will miss when they first see the final cut.
Inferno depends less on an appreciation of Brown's novels than the two other movies. You don't have to care anything about Italian art or literature or even much about bio-terrorism to have a perfectly good time watching this. It's a great Redbox compromise choice.
Brown has a new Robert Langdon novel called Origin coming this fall. I don't think it's too big of a risk to predict that it will be about conspiracies surrounding Darwin's theory of evolution. If the novel's (inevitable) chase sequences take place in locations that wouldn't be too expensive to film, maybe Howard and Hanks will take another shot with Langdon. I'm up for it.