The deerstalker cap might've helped ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The deerstalker cap might've helped

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
My rating:

I had a lot of fun watching 2009's Sherlock Holmes, or so my 4-star rating would indicate. Yet I can barely remember a thing about it now - and I certainly didn't feel much in the way of anticipation about its sequel. I honestly don't know why. (Maybe it's just because writing reviews for this blog has gotten to be a drag lately; I know, I took frickin' forever to finish the Songlap review, I know.) I even had to go read my review of the first film just to remind myself what I thought of it. In any case, despite good box-office returns and generally positive reviews, there's been little buzz about this sequel; it doesn't seem like there's a huge lot of folks chomping at the bit to catch the latest cinematic adventures of the Guy Ritchie-directed, Robert Downey, Jr-acted Sherlock Holmes. I dunno, I may be wrong.

And maybe that lack of anticipation is why this movie failed to wow me as much as the first one did.

Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.) is hot on the trail of the "Napoleon of Crime", Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris), who has been masterminding a series of terrorist bombings throughout Europe. And Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) is about to marry his beloved Mary (Kelly Reilly) and settle down into quiet domesticity, but of course he can't help but get caught up in Holmes' game of globe-trotting cat-and-mouse with the criminal mastermind. This time, they are aided by Holmes' brother Mycroft (Stephen Fry), who is just as brilliant and even more eccentric, and by the gypsy fortuneteller Madame Simza (Noomi Rapace), whose brother may be involved in Moriarty's plot; however, their nemesis has on his side Sebastian Moran (Paul Anderson), an expert marksman and assassin. Their quest to stop his plot - to start a world war among the great powers of Europe - will take them from England to Germany, France, and lastly Sweden. Specifically, Reichenbach Falls.

Normally, I'd be the last person to complain about a clever, fast-moving plot that demands its audience be quick enough to catch up with it. But for much of its running time, I couldn't help thinking it was moving too fast and being too clever. Its breakneck pace is hard to keep up with, especially when it comes to its occasional non-linearity; e.g. Holmes has a brilliant plan that he had put together a few scenes ago, which we see as a flashback, and that is now coming together. Honestly, I can appreciate clever storytelling, and I can appreciate a blockbuster action hero who's definitive trait is his ingenuity, and not just his ass-kickingness. And of course, this Holmes has plenty of ass-kickingness; like the first movie, it shows Holmes visualising his moves before the fight even begins, then executing them like a 19th century Jason Bourne, and it's still pretty cool.

It's just... let me put it this way. It's the Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest of the Sherlock Holmes series. It's more of the same, only more - more action, more explosions, more comedy, more buddy-banter between Watson and Holmes, and some things get lost in the tradeoff. One of them being that delicate thing known as tone. Guy Ritchie is clearly deliberately eschewing the stodgy Victorian manner of previous Sherlock Holmes adaptations and going for a more modern, down-to-earth feel. Which can be fun at parts, like how Sherlock and Mycroft call each other "Sherly" and "Myccie" - and also feel incongruously un-Sherlock-Holmes-like at parts, like Holmes and Watson coming to comical buddy-action blows (more so than the one punch Watson gave Holmes in the first) over a humourous misunderstanding. It's not so much Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson as it is Will Smith and Martin Lawrence.

It somehow feels a little too flippant in the beginning, and Holmes' eccentricities played too much for laughs and making him too much of a comical figure. And yet there are scenes that seem to aim for pathos, involving the (seeming!) death of a carryover character from the first movie. These, and the few other more serious scenes, just don't work; Ritchie seems like he'd rather rush through them to get to the next action sequence or quip-laden dialogue scene. (Or he'll intercut it with an action sequence, e.g. what should be a pretty harrowing bit where Moriarty tortures a captured Holmes.) The Madame Simza character is supposed to have a dramatic subplot, but the movie gives her little to do and then pretty much forgets she was there towards the end.

Yet I can't deny that for sheer, popcorn-munching, blockbuster thrills, it delivers. Jude Law and Downey, Jr. still have crack chemistry, and the latter is as much fun to watch here as he was in the Iron Man movies. There's a chase scene through a forest in which our heroes run through a storm of bullets and bombshells that dips in and out of slow-motion, and while that's become a much-overused technique, Ritchie still makes it cool and terrifically thrilling. The quips and gags are funny, and a smart action movie is still a rare enough pleasure to be pleasurable. And it builds nicely to an effective climax, in which Holmes and Moriarty face off in a battle of wits and only wits - no guns, cannons or henchmen around. It would probably be more fun on a rewatch, when you can pore over all the little things that you had trouble keeping up with. I considered giving it 4 stars just for that.

But ultimately no, I have to say it falls short of that level. Stephen Fry as Mycroft is wasted; he's supposed to be an even more brilliant mind than Holmes, yet there he is at the big climax and provides no help at all. The aforementioned returning character from the first film is also done a grave injustice (can you say "fridged"?). Jared Harris tries mightily to be the Hannibal Lecter of Victorian England, but the movie's tone doesn't let him. And the plot isn't really as clever as it thinks it is. (If a Criminal Mastermind has a henchman at the scene of a planned assassination to silence the assassin in case said assassination fails - with a Secret Disguised Weapon to boot - why not get the henchman to do the assassinating?) Ultimately, it's a movie with Sherlock Holmes in the title that just doesn't feel like Sherlock Holmes. The first one still did, even though it put Arthur Conan Doyle's character in a Hollywood blockbuster buddy-action movie. This one took it a little too far.

NEXT REVIEW: Flying Swords of Dragon Gate
Expectations: Tsui Hark, don't let me down again


Dzof said...

"why not get the henchman to do the assassinating?"

- because to spark a war, you need a diplomat of one country to assasinate another. Clearly having random assassins rumored to be backed by an opposing state government murder a non-prominent member of royalty woukd not be enough to start war.

TMBF said...

@Dzof: Okay, good point.

TheBentPencil said...

I read the books when I was a kid. So I was just thankful enough that it has not been butchered badly.

Although I can't remember which chapter describes Holmes as a skillful martial-artist and Watsons a rather sharp shooter...