Ron Howard and Tom Hanks are both back for Dan Brown’s ‘Inferno’ for 2015

I am not remotely surprised that they’re skipping “The Lost Symbol” completely.

Actually, maybe I am a little surprised. After all, Tom Hanks and Ron Howard both made mountains of cash for the first two Robert Langdon films, “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels and Demons,” despite the fact that very few people seemed to genuinely like either of the films. Dan Brown’s books are pop culture juggernauts, and that combination of talent combined with the omnipresence of the books made the movies as close to a can’t miss proposition as you can get in modern Hollywood.

“The Lost Symbol,” though, tarnished the brand pretty thoroughly, because it seemed to reveal the mechanical structure behind the franchise too nakedly. It is a formula book to such a deadening degree that it’s almost a parody. It’s so by-the-numbers, and it covers the exact same ground as the not-terribly-subtle also-ran series of “National Treasure” movies that Bruckheimer made for Disney. Those films seemed to stake a pretty firm claim on the idea of Washington D.C. as a big giant Rubik’s Cube ready to be solved, and Brown’s book felt thin even by his own standards.

I’m not sure “Inferno” is a huge improvement, but at least it puts Langdon back in Europe dealing with coded artwork, and Brown came up with one new twist that means this one will almost play like a Jason Bourne movie. Langdon begins the book in a hospital with a head wound and no memory of how he got to Europe or why. When an assassin breaks in and kills his doctor, he goes on the run with a nurse who may know more than she initially reveals, and the big puzzle of the film is all centered around the work of Dante, and specifically his descriptions of Heaven and Hell.

It looks like Howard, who originally passed on returning for a third film, is now onboard to direct, and David Koepp will adapt the book for Howard to direct with Hanks reprising his role. They’ve even set a date for it, making them one of the first big holiday 2015 titles to announce. These are giant moneymakers, so I’m not surprised Sony’s going back to the well. I’m impressed, though, that they restrained themselves from making “The Lost Symbol” just to make it. Here’s hoping Koepp and Howard keep it fun.

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