Inferno opens today. The franchise centered on Dan Brown’s religion-themed thrillers doesn’t have a catchy pop culture name, but I prefer to think of it as the “Decaf Indiana Jones” franchise. If Indiana Jones is a little too much—too much action, too much personality, too much style—then Dan Brown’s Decaf Indiana Jones is just for you. They, too, feature archaeological puzzles and a protagonist who is an academic, but don’t worry, the action, style, and personality has been dialed down for the Ambien set.
Tom Hanks returns as Robert Langdon, the pompous and mostly unlikeable protagonist of such book-movies as The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons—a movie I don’t believe anyone has actually seen—and of all the bad haircuts he has sported for these movies, this one is the least worst. In fact, that’s true of the movie itself: Of the three Decaf Indiana Jones movies, Inferno is the least worst. That’s not saying much, but at least it’s something.
In an effort to make Langdon sympathetic and/or interesting—ideally he’d be both, but it feels like the filmmakers are prepared to settle for just one—he is afflicted with amnesia right off the top, and within minutes of beginning Inferno plunges into a chase scene which never really ends. This is a two hour movie and it is almost entirely chase scene. That’s a fairly bold decision made for an obvious reason—these movies are boring as sh*t and they have to do something to liven them up. It doesn’t work out because the plot is f*cking stupid and the constant chasing renders the pacing incoherent.
Inferno, as the title suggests, uses Dante as its MacGuffin. Langdon has to decode a message hidden in a copy of Botticelli’s illustration of Dante’s circles of hell or else a plague will be unleashed on the world. Sometimes the movie remembers that he has amnesia and makes that a little tricky, but most of the time this is the kind of movie that assumes you can walk right into a place like the Palazzo Vecchio and steal a major artifact—like, say, Dante’s death mask—and no one will notice until the next f*cking day.
Langdon is joined on his scavenger hunt by a doctor and former child prodigy, Sienna, played by Felicity Jones, who looks like she could, at any moment, turn to the camera and say, “I didn’t know I was going to get a Star Wars movie.” The acting is really terrible in this movie. Hanks has never figured out how to make Langdon the least bit likeable—and “amnesiac” is not doing the trick—and Jones has nothing to offer as the dead-eyed Sienna except a creeping sense of despair. Ben Foster also stars, as the villain, and he’s phoning it in so hard he delivers his performance long distance.
This brings us to the most frustrating part of Inferno (besides its existence): Irrfan Khan. Hollywood has been trying to figure out what to do with Khan, a huge Bollywood star, for years, and he’s appeared in a number of franchises, including Jurassic World and The Amazing Spider-Man, but always as a side-lined minor character. He gets side-lined in Inferno, too, but his character is WAY more interesting than any other franchise role he’s been handed.
Khan stars as Sims, the head of some kind of shadowy evil cabal who orchestrates elaborate schemes for nefarious purposes. He’s mysterious and unsettling, and Khan plays him with a great deal of style and caustic wit, and the kind of imperturbable calm that makes for compelling action heroes. Why isn’t this movie about Sims? He’s WAY more interesting than Langdon, and Khan can hold the screen more than well enough to front a franchise. We all know Tom Hanks is a great actor, but he’s never been able to make sense of Langdon or these movies. Irrfan Khan, however, makes a solid case for headlining his own thriller franchise.
Inferno isn’t good, but it’s not as bad as Decaf Indiana Jones has been, and it’s almost bearable just for Irrfan Khan. This will undoubtedly be another black mark sequel in a year full of them, and it should be the end of Decaf Indiana Jones, but please, for the love of all that’s holy, someone make Irrfan Khan the star of a franchise in which he plays a cool, witty action hero. He’s too good to keep wasting in thankless sidekick roles.