Based on Dan Brown’s best-selling Robert Langdon symbologist series’ third book, The Lost Symbol is an earnest but half-baked puzzler with skilled, likable protagonists and a clumsy clockwork narrative with few surprises.
Networks rushed to find the next supernatural mystery box series after ABC’s Lost ended in 2010. Given the number of Lost clones we’ve seen since the show’s finale, it’s astonishing that a Dan Brown novel has taken this long to be adapted for the small screen. Langdon’s exploits feel tailor-made for an episodic format, which might be because his novels were big picture Tom Hanks movies for a decade. And although that may be true for The Lost Symbol, the pilot episode, “As Above, So Below,” doesn’t exactly set the tone for the rest of the series. It’s a straightforward, by-the-numbers scavenger hunt.
Ashley Zukerman (Fear Street) plays Harvard University professor Robert Langdon, a braggart who knows everything there is to know about religion iconology and symbolism. Zukerman is charming and witty in part, portraying a detective who is both lovable and annoying in equal measure. It’s a kind of sweet spot for TV snoops, that combination of insightful and obnoxious. This kind of character should be both out of his depth and in his element simultaneously, and Zukerman is a good, gratifying Langdon in this regard.
Langdon’s mystery is drawn into this time, involving the disappearance of his mentor, Peter Solomon (Eddie Izzard, once again in Hannibal-style peril), which isn’t immediately compelling. A loved one prods Langdon into action, similar to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, compelling him to find a supposed ancient doorway that leads to infinite knowledge and power.
Keeping it more Washington, D.C.-centric, The Lost Symbol is a journey into Masonic mumbo-jumbo in which everyone will gain a helpful lesson about tinkering with the unknown and investigating the past, rather than some of Brown’s more globe-trotting adventures. In this aspect, there’s enough popcorn material to satisfy, but not much more.
“As Above, So Below,” directed by Dan Trachtenberg of 10 Cloverfield Lane, has grisly scenes, underground caverns, booby traps, Dan Brown secret society mercenaries, and, of course,, Langdon’s famous beautiful head of hair (which Hanks was lightly roasted for lacking). This first chapter goes along nicely, using flashbacks to fill in essential character details, and focuses on Langdon as he deciphers clues left behind by a villain named Mal’akh. It’s junior league mystery fare that, for the most part, hides its drab character by transforming everyone into fast-talking Wiki pages.
On this journey, Langdon’s think tank comprises Katherine (Valorie Curry, The Tick), Peter’s daughter and Langdon’s old sweetheart, CIA investigator Sato (Sumalee Montano), and intelligent Capital policeman Nunez (Rick Gonzalez). Langdon’s crusade is peppered with light bickering between him and Katherine because, well, he’s kind of s***ty about her field of Noetic Science. Izzard provides key emotional stakes here (as well as a very distracting academia ponytail), while Izzard’s crusade is peppered with light bickering between him and Katherine because, well, he’s kind of s***ty about her field of Noetic Science. That’s a science that, by the way, is shown as far more fascinating than Langdon’s specific field, which appears to be little more than fancy infographics (he’s teaching a Harvard class on how “certain symbols now mean”).
Nothing in The Lost Symbol is designed to break molds or rattle cages, but it’s an excellent entry-level interest if you want to turn off your brain for a moment while a few “wise” characters spew forth intelligent things.
The Lost Symbol premiere is essentially OK, residing in a lovely network TV-style nest of tasty potboilers that can quickly bounce us from scene to scene, clue to clue, without bringing up anything genuinely exceptional. Robert Langdon, played by Ashley Zukerman, is a decent “everyman” hero with a touch of intellectual arrogance and situational discomfort, but the entire puzzle is unoriginal and dopey.