Ron Howard long ago proved that he’s willing to tackle any style of movie. In the four decades since he jumped from in front of to behind the camera, he’s dabbled in drama, comedy, fantasy, historical adventure, science fiction, documentaries, and more. With “Inferno,” his third time directing Tom Hanks as symbologist Robert Langdon in an adaptation of a Dan Brown novel, Howard has made what could easily pass as a James Bond film.

Brilliant but deranged villain trying to destroy (or in his mind, save) the world? Check. Clever hero trying to stop it from happening? Check. Beautiful woman who’s smarter than she initially lets on? Check. International settings? Let’s see ... Florence, Venice, Istanbul. Yeah, check. Tense, chaotic nail-biter of a climax? Double check.

The first two films in the series — The Da Vinci Code” (2006) and “Angels & Demons” (2009) — made money, but were dull and ridiculous affairs compared to this one. “Inferno” is nothing less than an action-thriller, featuring plentiful doses of confusion (for the main character and the audience) and absurd storytelling which, as is shown here, isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

When Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) wakes up in a hospital bed, suffering from head trauma, partial amnesia and psychedelic medieval nightmares, he believes he’s still in Boston, where he teaches. But, no, he’s in Florence, and Emergency Room nurse Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) is coaxing him back into reality.

A preface to all of this has included some chatter about human overpopulation, a calm but passionate voice claiming that “humanity is the disease, Inferno is the cure,” and a directive to “make sure Inferno is unleashed.” It’s the recorded voice of billionaire bioengineer (that deranged villain) Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), who commits suicide about four minutes into the film.

Don’t worry, there’s plenty of Ben Foster in flashback sequences, and his radical plan for what Inferno is and what it can do is revealed. (Hint: Think about overpopulation “thinning the herd”). But first, the plotline has to get Langdon out of the hospital and on the run with his nurse when members of the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) as well as a gun-toting, wildly shooting agente Vayentha (Ana Ularu) come after him.

Hanks drops smoothly and comfortably back into the role of the art/history/symbology expert, Jones is perky, convincingly knowledgeable and perfectly complementary as a partner to the addled but determined professor, and the film gets excellent acting assists from Omar Sy as a W.H.O. agent, Irrfan Khan as the wry and mysterious Harry Sims, and Ana Ularu, who plays her bad cop part in full-out Terminator mode.

The flight from the hospital is just an appetizer for what’s to come in this crazed and crazy movie. Howard and his semi-regular cinematographer Salvatore Totino keep providing shots from Langdon’s point of view, both real and feverishly imagined ones, and neatly weave in past and present happenings. The puzzling introduction of a “bio-tube” (later referred to as a projector and then a Faraday pointer) in Langdon’s pocket becomes the key that turns the movie into a puzzle.

The pieces, aside from that pointer, include the painter Sandro Botticelli, the poet Dante Alighieri, a visit to the Palazzo Vecchio, a run (and swim) through the Basilica Cistern or Sunken Palace of Istanbul (which, speaking of James Bond, was also featured in “From Russia with Love”), and some ongoing backs-and-forths of different characters being enemies, then allies, then enemies, and so on.

There’s a small, briefly disappointing glitch when one of those characters unconvincingly turns things upside down, but that’s followed by a succession of twists that put the film back on track, and lead to a ticking clock scenario of a plan that must be stopped ... before midnight. This is by far the best of Ron Howard/Tom Hanks/Dan Brown films so far.

— Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.

“Inferno”
Written by David Koepp; directed by Ron Howard
With Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Irrfan Khan, Omar Sy, Ben Foster
Rated PG-13