Tom Hanks will thrill devotees, newcomers alike in ‘Inferno’

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Tom Hanks and Felicity Jones in Venice, in a scene from “Inferno.” | Photo Credit: Sony Pictures

It doesn’t hurt that “Inferno,” the latest film based on a Dan Brown novel, is set in Florenceand beautifully augmented with grand, artfully cinematic scenes of Istanbul, because the visuals add a great deal to its appeal.

Fortunately, director Ron Howard, on the job for his third Brown-inspired film, gives us much more than a lovely travelogue of these enchanting locales. Thanks largely to the fact that Tom Hanks is also back, reprising the role of Robert Langdon(the world-famous symbologist and professor he played first in “The Da Vinci Code” and then in “Angels & Demons”), “Inferno” delivers as an engaging thriller that I frankly enjoyed far more than Howard’s last Brown outing.

Along with Hanks’ intense yet believable portrayal of Langdon, he is ably aided by a strong international supporting cast that includes Felicity Jones, Ben Foster, Irrfan Khan and Omar Sy.

As is the case with Brown’s tales, puzzle-solving is at the core of the story. The focus this time has nothing to do with Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” and is zeroed in on Botticelli’s famous depiction of Dante’s circles of Hell.

One of the things I enjoy with these Howard films is the way he manages to weave some nice historical and literary storytelling into an out-and-out thrill ride that is jam-packed with several layers of mystery not fully unraveled until the very end of the film.

A nice aspect of this film also is the fact that unlike with the previous two, one need not read Brown’s “Inferno” in order to get with the story, right from the get-go.

The basic plot centers on the plans by twisted megalomaniacal, billionaire scientist Bertrand Zobrist (Foster) to unleash a deadly virus on the planet. His goals are couched in terms his followers accept as fact: Unless the world’s population is seriously reduced, the rest of us will live on an Earth that can no longer support human civilization.

Zobrist’s idea is to wipe out literally billions of people — in order that those who survive his virulent plague will then be able to reorder society properly, all over the globe. Early on (and this was revealed in the movie’s main trailer, so this isn’t a true spoiler), we discover that Zobrist knows he’s being chased by at least one secret agency out to stop his virus plan before it can be released onto an unsuspecting world.

Zobrist throws himself from the tallest tower in the center of Florence to avoid being captured and possibly tortured into revealing the ultimate aspects of his plan.

As the film begins, we find Langdon awakening in a hospital in Florence, being carefully treated by Dr. Sienna Brooks (Jones). Suffering from a form of amnesia, Langdon has no idea how he arrived in Italy or why he has been wounded with a serious gunshot wound to his head.

Through the use of mental flashbacks experienced by Langdon, we are given glimpses of what led up to his current predicament, a situation that quickly becomes nearly fatal.

Langdon is clearly being targeted — but why?

With the assistance of Jones’ Sienna, the bookish professor barely escapes death— something that he will continually dodge for the rest of the movie.

Now it’s up to this noted symbologist to work through a series of strange clues, beginning with a key one in Botticelli’s painting, “The Abyss of Hell,” painted in the 15th century.

Along the way, the duo encounter all kinds of mysterious groups — ranging from agents from the World Heath Organization to a nationless organization led by the articulate Harry Sims (Khan), known as “The Provost.”

Yes, the plot does fall down a bit and become predictable, especially in the third act. However, in the beginning, “Inferno” is a grabber, and Hanks knows Langdon so well, he wears that character like a somewhat worn yet still well-constructed suit of clothes.

★★★

Columbia Pictures presents a film directed byRon Howardand written byDavid Koepp, based upon the novel byDan Brown. Rated PG-13(for sequences of action and violence, disturbing images, some language, thematic elements and brief sensuality). Running time: 120 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.

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