Dan Brown is a pretty bad writer. How bad, you ask? Well, not even a scriptwriter as good as David Koepp (the man who wrote Jurassic Park, Carlito's Way, The Paper, Mission: Impossible, Panic Room and Spider-Man) can wring a decent film out of Brown's latest novel, once again featuring symbology professor Robert Langdon as a sort of modern-day Indiana Jones. Much of the plot is based on Dante's Inferno, and you too will feel as though you are in purgatory as you sit through this dull mess.
Once again, Tom Hanks is in the role of Langdon, and at the start of the film he finds himself in hospital in Florence, Italy, with his memory of the past two days missing. Suddenly an officer of the Carabinieri appears and starts shooting at him, so he and Doctor Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) have to go on the run. After a bit of a car chase through the streets of Florence, some running through hidden tunnels and a fair bit of exposition it turns out that Langdon and Brooks (hey, there's a good name for a law firm) have to help to foil a plot to unleash a deadly virus that will wipe out much of the world's human population.
As well as wondering why people still keep paying Dan Brown to write books, and why people keep on buying them, is why terribly talented people such as Ron Howard, Tom Hanks and Felicity Jones would be involved in turning one of his books into a movie. All three of them do the best with what they have to work with, but that's not saying much. The material itself is dire, and as we all know, it's impossible to spin gold out of dirt. The film gets off to a good start with amnesiac Langdon in hospital, but soon descends into the usual running and driving and shooting that we've all seen before. The locations are beautiful – who doesn't love Florence – but you don't get to see an awful lot of this city. Ditto when they move to Venice, and finally on to Istanbul. It's a plot worthy of a James Bond or Jason Bourne film – mad billionaire wants to "save" the human race by wiping out most of the world's population – but Langdon is no super-agent, merely a professor with a decent knowledge of symbols, codes and religious iconography. And as much as the filmmakers try to turn him into an up-to-date Indy, it really doesn't work, and much of that goes back to the awful source material.
How the first two Langdon films – The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons – made big bucks at the box office is anyone's guess. Film criitcs generally loathed them both, and are sure to dislike this one too. There are enough twists, turns and reveals to keep a lazy audience awake and interested, but for the rest of us, this really is a waste of a bunch of talented people who really should be making better use of their time. The bad news is that there is a fourth Dan Brown novel featuring Robert Langdon – The Lost Symbol – which is bound to wind up being filmed, probably by Howard and Hanks. You have been warned.