Sartre’s No Exit tells us, “Hell is other people.” But, having escaped Inferno—the third chase-around in Dan Brown’s code-breaking mega-franchise, its main symbol being $$$, having grossed more than a billion bucks—with my eyeballs lightly seared, I can inform you, dear reader, that purgatory is watching other adults play hide-and-seek, Amazing Race-style, in Italian palazzos, basilicas, and museums for two hours.
Our voyage beyond Zzzz begins as hyper-adventurous academic Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) comes to in a Florence hospital room. He’s beset by dreary, F/X-heavy visions of plague victims, tormented souls, rushing rivers of blood, etc. And we’re besieged by woozy, grungy, repetitive camera-shots of hell-delusions, anagrams, emails, and a projection of Botticelli’s Map of Hell. As the amnesiac Langdon sifts through his last few days with the help of Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), he realizes clues are bread-crumbing them along to a virus which dead billionaire Bertrand Zobrist wanted to unleash, to cure the pestilence that is humanity. (What’s that Blofelding in the wind? I smell pseudo-Bond.)
This PI with a PhD, who knows the Great European Texts like the back of his left elbow patch, goes from one Dante-related Clue-room in Florence to the next, then to Venice and Istanbul’s Basilica Cistern. That’s where this movie happens upon the perfect metaphor for itself—people thrashing pathetically about in blood-red water (hmm—I wonder what that crimson tide represents? If only a Super-Symbologist were on-call). En route: a femme fatale; a love interest tossed Langdon’s way; a shadowy consortium nearly obscuring the only light of acting-hope here, Irrfan Khan. Plenty of white people—mostly men—drop Wiki-like factoids or spout lectures until you feel that, surely, you deserve an honorary degree for sitting through this National Treasure’s European Vacation mixed with faux-educational drivel.
If the Langdon series continues, lowering us into its fourth circle of hell, I can only shudder and let Dante speak for me: “Thy soul is by vile fear assailed, which oft so overcasts a man, that he recoils from noblest resolution, like a beast at some false semblance in the twilight gloom.”