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Times will change and tides will always turn, but there’s one thing you can count on: movies starring Tom Hanks.

No matter what else is happening in the world, Tom Hanks is routinely waiting at the multiplex in yet another mega-budget, blockbuster vehicle that will probably, if not certainly, be up for an Oscar in one form or another. He’s a solid rock of dependability in an uncertain world and a human compass inevitably pointing to whatever is the correct thing to do in any given situation — whether it’s buying Apple shares in “Forrest Gump” or saving 155 airline passengers in “Sully.”

And here’s Hanks in “Inferno,” the third in a franchise that kicked off with “The Da Vinci Code” in 2006. Directed by Ron Howard, “Inferno” is probably the most ambitious of the series — bringing together the World Health Organization, bioterrorism and Dante in an unlikely menage a trois. The bad guy is young IT billionaire Bertand Zobrist (Ben Foster), whose grand plan is to slash the global population by half with a virus similar to the Black Plague, which nearly wiped out all of Europe in the 14th century.

Inferno
Rating
Run Time 121 mins
Language English
Opens NOW SHOWING

Why would anyone want to do that? Zobrist’s reasoning is that with only half the population, the world will have more food and resources and produce far less CO2 emissions. But before his plan kicks in, Zobrist dies — literally a few minutes into the movie — and the story becomes the big question of where he hid that virus and how to prevent the various competing forces from getting their hands on it.

Based on the novels by Dan Brown, this franchise is notable for, among other things, being the only one in Hanks’ career. Going by the same name and role for a full decade is not something he has done before or likely will do again. As code breaker and Harvard symbology professor Robert Langdon, Hanks’ age is catching up with the role, but “Inferno” makes you think he’s good for at least one or two more sequels. Langdon has tenure, anyway.

As a side job, Langdon is called in to solve the puzzles (always religious and medieval in origin) that will save Christianity or humanity or both. In the process, we are treated to splendid views of gorgeous architecture in European cities, accompanied by Langdon’s ruminations on medieval history and the workings of the Roman Catholic Church and doomsday literature from the Dark Ages.

This time, the focus is on Dante’s “Inferno” and his death mask housed in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. No doubt about it, tourism and education are the twin pillars holding up this franchise. Frankly, the historical and literary stuff — which strategically book-end the action and murder bits that keep Langdon and the audience on their toes — is often more intriguing than the plot line.

Meanwhile, Langdon, as usual, wears the series’ uniform of a starched shirt and dark suit that miraculously never gets dirtied with as much as a smear of pasta sauce, even though he spends every second of screen time traipsing up and down Italy. To be fair, he runs past some great looking ristorantes, but he doesn’t get to stop. It’s too bad he’s never given any time to rest, eat or canoodle with women, except toward the very end — and even then for a total of about two minutes.

Langdon is also noticeably getting heavier and a little less agile with each “Da Vinci Code” installment. Now he’s more inclined to ask for help from his attractive and much younger female co-star. Having woken up in a state of amnesia at the start of the film, for nearly half of “Inferno,” he stumbles about in a haze, mumbling about the end of the world and trying to remember clues. Leading lady Felicity Jones as Dr. Sienna Brooks, is reduced to care-giving assistant instead of being the multiple-Ph.D.-holding heroine she should be in her own right. That in itself is disappointing, whether you’re a feminist or not — even if Langdon is unfailingly and gentlemanly polite.

But this is Tom Hanks, from whom we can expect nothing less, even if we sometimes hope for a little more from the film.

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