Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Boys Are Back

Sometimes it’s about expectations.  The current Sherlock Holmes franchise merely borrows the names and the most readily identifiable characteristics of its famous protagonists and almost-as-famous antagonist.  This 21st century revamping is an action picture with a bit of bromance, inspired by steampunk graphic novels.  You know, where there are modern attitudes in the romanticized past with spectacular fireworks, explosions, lots of weapons, and a few attractive women thrown in the mix.  Is the plot a bit muddled?  Sure. Was a great plot on my list of expectations?  No.
Yes, the boys are back!  ((c) 2011 Warner Bros. Pictures)

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is a lot of fun.  It moves swiftly, if somewhat jumpily (it is Guy Ritchie directing, after all) into the jumbled plot.  There’s some espionage — or is it just business?  Or….OK, plot is not the film’s strength.

A Game of Shadows is, more than anything else, a witty and brisk buddy film.  Robert Downey Jr.’s brilliant, petulant, slightly mad Sherlock Holmes cannot do without his friend Dr. Watson, and Jude Law plays the long-suffering sidekick with grace, charm, and occasional exasperation.  These are Downey’s films, but the pairing with Jude Law is practically genius.
Downey as Holmes and Law as Watson  (c) 2011 Warner Bros. Pictures

The first film was a typical Ritchie romp in which men dominate and women are neglected at best.  It’s happened again here, but at least there’s a new female character, and I don’t mean Downey in drag.  Noomi Rapace plays Madame Simza, a gypsy fortune-telling reformed anarchist that Sherlock is determined to save despite herself.  That’s all of her, by the way.  Ms. Rapace brings nothing more to the role than disheveled hair.  
Rapace and the Boys (c) 2011 Warner Bros. Pictures

Mind you, I wasn't fond of Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler, even though I admire her work greatly elsewhere.  Hmmm.  Could the women be underwritten in these films?  Tosh.

This quest conflicts only slightly with Holmes’ attempt to protect Watson and his new bride-who-almost-wasn’t from the unscrupulous Professor Moriarty and right-hand-man Colonel Moran.  Moriarty is more and more interesting as Jared Harris plays him. Understatement is an understatement for what Harris does, and he pulls my attention away from Downey, which is no easy feat.  Perhaps it’s those cold eyes that freeze the blood.  Or his cold logic, which is difficult to argue with until you remember you’re a human.
Jared Harris as Professor Moriarty, and Downey.  (c) 2011 Warner Bros. Pictures.

While Harris actually gives Downey a run for his money, the main power of these films is the lusciously layered relationship between Downey’s Sherlock (or Sherley, as his brother Mycroft calls him) and Law’s Watson.  The two are so in synch, it’s gorgeous.  The looks that pass between them, and the eyes that don’t quite meet, speak volumes of their understanding.  And the dancing!  So don’t go thinking there won’t be a third “Sherlock Holmes and another adventure.”  Chemistry like this is priceless, and Messrs. Downey and Law and Ritchie are no fools.  Dr. Watson would make book on it.

The perversely delightful Stephen Fry appears in a very strange interpretation of brother Mycroft, sometimes in the nude.  Not full frontal as Michael Fassbender is purported to do in Shame, but quite enough to fluster Mrs. Watson and give us a few good laughs.

What with Ritchie’s penchant for replaying, in slow motion and voiceover, his lightning fast action scenes, there’s never a worry in the film.  When Sherlock does something absolutely dreadful, that should be shocking, we feel secure that it’s not an ending.  Only Moriarty ends things.  In lesser hands, this lack of suspense could be seen as a flaw.  But Ritchie does it all so skillfully that even knowing exactly where he’s going does not lessen the nail-biting, gasping audience from wondering Oh no, What Next???

As always, in her all-too-brief appearance Geraldine James is spot on as Mrs. Hudson, and Kelly Reilly has a bit more to do now that she’s married Dr. Watson.  More please.

Rachel McAdams makes a brief, nerve-wracking reappearance as Irene Adler. To say more would be a spoiler.  Which is, in itself, a spoiler….

Paul Anderson is chillingly efficient and loyal as Colonel Moran, stalwart of Professor Moriarty. 

And if all that weren’t enough, there’s a fantastical run through the woods with trees exploding around our heroes, rather like films showing Bastogne in the Battle of the Bulge.  Effects are awe-inspiring and James Herbert’s editing is sharp-edged.  All elements of this film are extremely well crafted, like cinematography by Philippe Rousselot and the production design by Sarah Greenwood, which is just gorgeous, and costumes by Jenny Beavan.  What the film may lack in plot it has in high production values.  Could it have been better?  Sure.  Will that keep me – or Ritchie, or Downey, or Law – up at night?  No.

Just to be clear:  You are not required or expected to think during this film.  You are not to wonder if it resembles the original stories.  Purists beware.  This is a new Holmes and Watson, a new way of looking at them, and it’s really all about Robert Downey Jr and the joy of watching him work.  So just have fun.

~ Molly Matera, signing off, already looking forward to the next one.  I freely admit to greatly enjoying this guiltily pleasurable franchise.


  1. "Hear hear" that the women's roles are underwritten (and let's do something about that, dammit!), or that the movie's just fun as long as you don't think about it...