Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sherlock Holmes 2: A Game of Shadows

"Sherlock Holmes 1" was easily one of the best movies of 2009.  "Sherlock Holmes 2" is one of the most okay movies of 2011.  For a year full of various disappointments and failures, to me 'pretty good' is the new great.  It was properly entertaining, not a new classic, not as good as the original, but certainly worth seeing.  Compared to many other movies with the number '2' in the title, "Sherlock Holmes:  A Game of Shadows" manages to keep the franchise fresh, entertaining, and fun enough for me to get happily excited for a "Sherlock Holmes 3".

At the start of this year, there were a lot of movies I was looking forward to:  "Rango", "Captain America", "Sucker Punch", "Harry Potter 7.5".  Are we noticing a pattern here?  These movies were all either mediocre or utterly horrible.  There have been lots of unhappy surprises this year, even now I still can't call it a good year for movies.  This is a year where there wasn't just a Transformers movie, there wasn't just a Twilight movie, but there was also "Jack and Jill".  Aside from a few bright spots like "Drive", "Winnie th Pooh", and "the Guard", 2011 generally sucked.  But now there are less than week left, and 2011 has to work overtime to convince me that it wasn't a complete disaster.  "Sherlock Holmes 2" is not a movie that will change my entire opinion of the year, but it was a pretty decent.  This is as good as any movie should be, movies should never get worse than this.

I actually went out last night with the initial plan of seeing "Hugo", but the universe didn't allow for that.  So instead I went to this.  The first "Sherlock Holmes" was clever, entertaining, exciting, and Robert Downey Jr-ey.  This one is much of the same, but I don't think director Guy Ritchie really knew how to make a sequel.  So he just ramped everything up, turned it all into an action movie, and stopped flirting with the idea of Holmes and Watson having sexual tension and turned them into forlorn gay lovers.  The results are clearly inferior, and if I were a crueler person, I wouldn't give it a pass.  But Robert Downey Jr.!  What am I to do?

In the first "Sherlock Holmes", I loved the Sherlock Watson relationship, I loved the mystery plot, I loved Robert Downey Jr. and the entire cast, but there was one thing in particular I did not love:  Rachel McAdams.  She was supposed to be like a femme fatal thief action chick... but mostly spent the movie looking cute and getting kidnapped.  She really only seemed to exist to desperately prove to the audience that Sherlock Holmes is not gay.  Guy Ritchie apparently read my review back in December 2009 (making him one of my few readers back then), and so in the first five minutes of this movie unceremoniously kills off the Rachel McAdams character.  She dies with barely a word, Sherlock Holmes spends like a minute brooding over it and then spends the rest of the moving exchanging soulful looks with Jude Law's Watson.  You know, I didn't like Rachel McAdams in these movies, but I was still surprised to see her dumped with such venom.  It does prove that the main villain has venom, at least.

If you've seen the trailer, you can probably guess that the 'gay' part of the new Sherlock Holmes series is right there in the forefront.  Watson is getting married (to a girl!) and Sherlock Holmes could not look more sad about it.  Heck, Watson himself seems like he's trying to convince himself this whole movie that he's straight.  Holmes, now without his McAdams beard, immediately jumps into this movie dressing in drag, dancing with Watson, and saying lines like "Watson, come lie with me...".  "Watson, who taught you to dance?"  "You did, Holmes."  Then they make out right in the middle of the party.

Wait, they don't.  But they might as well have.

There's a new female character in this gypsie chick.  She really doesn't do anything all movie, and is kinda a living plot device.  As for Watson's new wife, I thought she was a great character, but Holmes literally throws her off a train in the first half hour, so we don't see much of her after that.  We do get to meet Sherlock's big brother, a maniacal evil genius that is a half cyborg.  ...Wait, that was a different, more insane movie, sorry.  Actually Sherlock Holmes' brother is a big gay British man played by Stephen Fry.  And just to warn anybody who is about to see this movie, you see Stephen Fry's ass.  That's a sight I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.

While "Sherlock Holmes 1" was a fairly contained mystery film, "Sherlock Holmes 2" is a completely off-the-rails action thriller without any mystery of any kind.  I am utterly stunned to find that a Sherlock Holmes movie offers no mystery of any kind for its audience.  From the start you know that its the work of a bearded criminal mastermind, Professor Moriarty, Holmes's arch-nemesis from the original books and everything else.  Sadly Mark Strong died in the first movie, so he's not coming back despite being universally awesome in everything.  The new villain isn't as strong, but he plays it up as an equal genius to Holmes.  They're such a match that Moriarty can even use Sherlock Holmes's trademark slow-motion strategy fighting style.  The movie ends with a totally awesome psychic duel between Holmes and Moriarty, which alone is worth the price of admission.

Unfortunately, the movie tells you what Moriarty's plan is from the very start:  he's starting World War I early.  I guess the good Professor saw "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" and so has stolen the main villain's scheme for that movie.  Ultimately this scheme is much less compelling than Mark Strong's creepy voodoo wizard plot to conquer England, which actually had some hidden schemes behind it.  In this movie, you know that Moriarty is using terrorist bombings to make Germany and France hate each other (as if they needed more reason back in 1891), basically the only unknown factor is why he's doing it.  Well, guess what?  He's a war profiteer, that's it.  At least he could have tried to establish his own megalomaniac Moriarty Empire, you know.

Since the detective part of the series is over, what we have instead is a collection of action set-pieces.  Most of these work, but the constant run from one explosion to another makes this movie every uneven.  This is Guy Ritchie's least sophisticated movie ever, and easily his most simplistic plot.  Holmes and Watson and some gypsies go to point A to point B, beat up henchmen, and keep following Moriarty across Europe.  The pacing doesn't really start to work until at least the second half, when the movie hovers from slapstick to entertaining to exciting to, God help me, boring.  But it all comes together ultimately, and the movie is a fun ride.

Except of course, for a truly lousy chase scene in the woods.  This scene in real time probably took thirty seconds, but because Guy Ritchie briefly transformed into Zack Snyder during this part of the movie making process, its filled with downright abusive slow-mo shots.  You know that "300"-thing where the shot goes from slow-mo to super fast to slow-mo again?  Its that over and over and over and over again, forever.  I believe this scene was roughly six days long in time length, and it is absolutely impossible to follow.

So ultimately, "Sherlock Holmes" is flawed but entertaining.  Guy Ritchie seems to be losing the formula for what makes a good Sherlock Holmes movie.  We need less action, all in all, maybe a bit less silliness, and more actual detective work.  Honestly, if this movie didn't have Robert Downey Jr. playing his Sherlock Holmes role to complete perfection, I don't think I could recommend it.  But it does, so I can.  "Sherlock Homes 3" will make a great double-feature with "Pirates of the Caribbean 5" now.  They're both now zombiefied franchises surviving only on the talent of their leading men.  Hey, but I'm not complaining.  It was still lots of fun.


  1. Hwat! No mystery?! No detective work?! Awwww, crap! What's the point of having a Sherlock Holmes movie if he doesn't do his detective work. You can't just turn it into a just a typical action film; He's a Thinking Man!
    This was, well, the only movie that I was looking forwrd to this year (well, technically speaking, it comes out next year down here..) but the point remains.

    Now I'm sad.

  2. Regarding your daily comment: Really? Just... really?!

    I now have no doubts about whether you're just incapable of enjoying some of the best games ever or not.

    Other than Kingdom Hearts.

  3. Personaly, Zelda is just Zelda to me, though Kingdom Hearts will always have a deeper story.