Harvard University professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) awakens in a hospital room in Florence, Italy, with no memory of what has transpired over the last few days, but being plagued with visions of a scorched Earth. Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), one of the doctors tending to him, reveals that he is suffering from amnesia as a result of a bullet wound to the head. Another doctor says the police are there to question Langdon but the officer turns out to be Vayentha (Ana Ularu), an assassin, who shoots the doctor while heading down the hall. Sienna helps Langdon to escape, and they flee to her apartment.
Waking up inside a hospital room in Florence, Italy, Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) struggles with amnesia, informed by Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) that a bullet grazed his head during a violent encounter. Fighting to recall why he’s in Italy in the first place, Robert is also haunted by apocalyptic visions of Hell he can’t process. Realizing that shadowy people are after him, Robert and Sienna escape from the hospital on a mission to figure out what’s going on, coming into possession of a special Faraday Pointer, which projects an altered version of the “Map of Hell” painting, soon realizing that the work of Dante Alighieri is tied to warnings left behind by geneticist Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster). A doomsday enthusiast with a specialty in overpopulation, Bertrand’s scientific work includes the creation of an “Inferno Virus” intended to wipe out half of the planet’s residents. Following clues to thwart Bertrand’s plan, Robert and Sienna are chased by agents from the World Health Organization around the country, stopping to decode paintings and Dante’s death mask as they grasp the enormity of Bertrand’s vision for mass death.
Instead of showing flowing-hair confidence, pulled into investigations by nervous law enforcement officials, religious leaders, and academics, Robert is introduced in “Inferno” as a quivering man stuck in a confusing situation. He’s lost some of his memory, waking up far from home, and without a familiar face to help him adjust to his temporary reality. Sienna is his partner for this adventure, a brilliant woman who’s been a longtime admirer of Robert’s work, electing to join the cause when dangerous individuals show up at the hospital looking to assassinate the symbologist. Again, there’s no major deviation from formula, but it’s interesting to greet Robert on his knees, briefly left without his famed power of deduction, struggling to even remember what coffee is called. Screenwriter David Koepp and Howard aim to launch “Inferno” with a flurry of disorientation, with Robert tormented by horrifying visions of red death, sensing a disaster in the making engineered by Bertrand, whose hasty suicide commences a ticking clock of sorts as the hunt for the Inferno Virus begins.
Once out of the hospital, Robert slowly works back to his original strength, commencing a race across Italy as the woozy symbologist and Sienna begin to hunt for meaning in the ways of Dante. Chases are plentiful in “Inferno,” the most memorable being a sprinting session in the folds of Italy, where the twosome is hunted by Christoph Bouchard (Omar Sy) and flying drones, giving Robert and Sienna few places to hide. Howard has never been a master action movie craftsman, but “Inferno” gets the adrenaline pumping at times, with Hanks once again selling the stuffing out of panicked reactions and breathless decision making. He’s terrific in the role, and he’s matched well to Jones, making a compelling partnership as Robert and Sienna inch closer to the virus location using hidden symbols and codes left behind in Dante-inspired works of art.
Perhaps the picture is a reworking of “Da Vinci Code” highlights, but the production has refined their approach (scoring by Hans Zimmer goes electronic), making “Inferno” more entertaining than the last two installments, but missing extensive puzzling. Howard is shaping more of a thriller, consciously diluting Robert’s gamesmanship, but lengthy exposition remains and supporting characters are collected as the feature unfolds, including Irrfan Khan as Harry Sims, a security company honcho, and Elizabeth Sinskey (Sidse Babett Knudsen, who co-starred with Hanks in the criminally underseen “A Hologram for the King”), a possibly duplicitous WHO official Robert once had romantic intentions for (a pronounced attempt to warm up the franchise).