Tom Hanks is back as Professor Robert Langdon, the academic hero of previous adventures, in Inferno, the latest installment in the series begun with 2006’s The DaVinci Code. Langdon is joined this time by yet another young assistant, Dr. Sienna Brooks, played by Felicity Jones. Brooks has to help him out after he wakes up in an Italian hospital with no memory of how he go there and the two are set on a chase through Europe to not only recover his memories but also unravel a series of clues tied to Dante, the author of the literary masterwork famous for its depiction of the underworld.
Those clues hold the secret to some sort of apocalyptic plot, as a secret organization plans to unleash a virus that could potentially wipe out half the human race. So Langdon and Brooks are in a race to not only once again unravel a mystery involving some of history’s most important and iconic artifacts, all of which have secret clues hidden in them, but save humanity while doing so. All while Langdon himself seems to be wrapped up in the plot. This is another somewhat time-delayed sequel, with the last entry in the Robert Langdon story coming seven years ago, so let’s see how Columbia is bringing it back.
The first teaser poster put Hanks at the front and center, looking stern as he’s standing in front of a winding circular staircase that features all sorts of ornate relief work. The star’s’ name is at the top, above a reminder that it comes from the author of The DaVinci Code and Angels & Demons, which of course were both successful Tom Hanks movies from previous years. At the bottom above the title treatment is the promise that “Every clue will take him deeper,” telling the audience that yes, this is another mystery involving antiquities and remote locations.
The next poster is kind of awful. Hanks and Jones are seen running kind of toward the camera but their faces are so badly altered Hanks in particular is almost unidentifiable. “Inferno is upon us” the copy explains but you just can’t stop staring at the horrible photo work that’s been done, rendering these two well-known human beings into monstrosities.
A later IMAX poster used essentially the same image, but with the photo in black and white and the camera pulled in a bit tighter.
The first teaser trailer immediately sets up the premise of the story, talking about a doomsday switch that could wipe out humanity and which Langdon has been set on the path to find. It’s tied in some way to Dante’s Inferno and…that’s about it. The main point of the trailer is to show off Hanks and Jones running from place to place as they travel through a new set of historic locations
It’s tight and compelling and will attract both fans of the franchise and people who just like Hanks or bright, flashy thrillers like this. But it’s not substantial at all, providing only the barest bones of the story to tell the audience what’s going on.
The first full trailer opens with a thrill, as someone jumps off a building rather than reveal what he knows about Inferno. Soon Langdon is involved and begins deciphering the clues that have been left. Seems he’s more deep into this than he thought as his memories have been altered or are missing, making him a key player in the conspiracy to, we see, wipe out half the world’s population with a plague of some kind. So he and Brooks are out to stop what amounts to the end of the world, a race that takes them through more of the landmarks of the ancient world.
The trailer never really gets moving until the second half. The first half is unfortunately weighed down by the hokey lines Hanks in particular is given about needing to do this or find that, all of which come off as very wooden. Not that he’s not giving it his all, it’s just rough for anyone to make that sound unstaged. Jones looks like a great addition to the story, which is just as silly as the first two movies were.
Online and Social
Doesn’t look like there was an official website for the movie, which is a shame. But there were Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles that shared countdown images and GIFs along with other prompts to
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
TV spots like this one laid out the end-of-the-world plot in various ways, establishing the stakes and that Langdon/Brooks are the only ones who can break the codes and save the world. The dialogue comes off just as clunky as it does in the trailer, which is too bad. There’s just just no subtlety.
The spots end with a call to action to contact Langdon via email, which I’ve done but haven’t received any response yet, so what that means and how that ties into the marketing is something I’ll have to revisit later.
Billboard ads featuring Roman statuary and other artwork were placed outdoors, with signs including the tagline “Inferno is upon us” and sporting the names of the acting leads. Similar artwork along with variations on the key art was used for online ads.
Media and Publicity
The publicity kicked off with the release by Sony of an official still showing Hanks and Jones on the run from something.
Much later a big feature on Jones would cover how she researched the role for the this movie as well as her career, which is white-hot right now, as a whole. Jones also got a cover story in Elle that covered much of the same ground.
Hanks made the rounds of some of the morning and late-night talk shows, most notably “Saturday Night Live” where he hosted and turned in one of the better shows in recent memory, with a bunch of sketches generating lots of buzz. Ben Foster also made a morning talk show appearance
This is not a great campaign and it doesn’t make me feel positively about the movie it’s selling. The trailers and TV spots are so clunky and wooden, it’s hard to believe the charming and talented Hanks is involved along with director Ron Howard, who seems to be losing the light, nimble touch he had earlier in his career. Tack that onto the stiff and sometimes downright disturbing posters and you have a campaign that has no soul.
All that doesn’t speak well for the movie being sold. If you’re a fan of the series of movies and the books they’re based on, this does enough to tell you you’ll be getting more of the same, with the consequences of failure amped up a bit. Otherwise this looks like a generic thriller that happens to star one of America’s favorite actors, albeit one that just had a new movie in theaters about a month ago. The best thing the campaign has going for it is that there aren’t a lot of new releases coming out this weekend.