Did you know that our word quarantine derives from the Italian ‘forty days’, the period that trading vessels had to wait before entering Venice during the Black Death?
It’s part of the (sometimes factual) esoterica that engulfs this ridiculous but diverting mystery. Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is back, once more dealing with dark and secret stuff from the Renaissance, but this time around the intrigue is unreasonably convoluted. Usually an ‘honest’ and conservative storyteller, Ron Howard, who has directed all three of the Dan Brown potboilers that have been adapted for the screen, has gone perilously close to betraying his audience’s trust.
Twists and turns in any plot need to surprise to be effective, but when they come entirely out of the blue, with the flimsiest of belated flashback explanations, you can be justified in thinking that you are being made a mug of. That Langdon is emerging from an unconscious state and has no idea of how he got to be in a hospital bed with an armed assassin gunning for him is not a good enough excuse for a deceitful narrative. Be that as it may, Florence and Venice look a treat – the aerial shots are splendid – and the final sequence, shot in a colonnaded watery vault below the streets of Istanbul, is fantastic. Getting the ball rolling is Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), an American billionaire concerned with the calamity that our planet’s over-population is hurtling towards. (It is an issue more confronting even than climate change, but, crippled by myopic religious tenets and ‘personal freedoms’ zealots, nobody wants to do anything about it – and who wants to watch a movie dealing with such a pressing matter?) Zobrist has a solution – he has created a virus that when released will eliminate half of humanity in one fell swoop. A bit drastic perhaps, and why he didn’t just release it immediately is a secret only the scriptwriters know – but problem solved, yes? Langdon must prevent it from happening while bad guys want to get hold of that vial. Tedious.