Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows: This Game’s Players Take A Small Step Backward

For the first half of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Guy Ritchie’s sequel to 2008’s blockbuster franchise reboot, fans of the first will likely feel the familiar pleasures: the stylized action, the witty repartee, the homoerotic flirting between the two leads. However, the second half devolves into muddy, noisy slow-motion too often– the script never really disappoints, but if the action in your action blockbuster is annoyingly incomprehensible, that’s a problem. Ritchie succumbs to “sequelitis”: that inevitable desire to top the first one that then clutters up the very things that made the first one so enjoyable in the first place. It’s a fine sequel with many fun moments… it just doesn’t all gel.

Shortly after the first film, Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) is still obsessing over Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris), who played a big part in the criminal activity from the last film and who now seems to have expanded his horizons considerably. A series of bombings around Europe have been blamed on various radical groups and elevated tensions between countries, yet Holmes is convinced Moriarty is behind the lot of them. Meanwhile, Watson (Jude Law) is preparing for his wedding to his fiancee (Kelly Reilly), a ceremony that Holmes objects to in a massive way. Yet when Watson’s bachelor party is broken up by Holmes attempting to save a gypsy woman (Noomi Rapace) and his honeymoon is broken up by an assassination attempt from Moriarty’s henchman, Watson is forced back together with Holmes to try to solve this final case and bring down Moriarty before he brings down Europe.

Part of the fun of this series is just how blatant Ritchie makes the homoeroticism. “Unlike you, I repress nothing,” Holmes says to attack Watson’s desire to get married and end their “relationship” (“partnership,” Watson retorts). This film goes farther than the previous, making it pretty clear that Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes is our first mainstream gay superhero. He cross-dresses, attacks Watson’s fashion sense, invites Watson to lie with him in one scene, and asks him to engage in a slow ballroom dance in another– if his character was openly gay, one wonders if he’d be accused of fitting too many stereotypes. The best scenes in the film showcase the chemistry between the two actors, both in a train attack and during Watson’s bachelor party. Defeating villains while engaging in lovers’ quarrels– therein lies the magic of Holmes.

Unfortunately, the film gets away from that rapport too often. Jared Harris makes a charming Moriarty, and his rivalry with Holmes is moderately fun, but the “game of shadows” gets overly complex and needlessly dark after a very playful first half, culminating in a forest attack– featured heavily in the trailers– that had me checking my watch and yawning. The slow-motion is abundant, the editing is disorienting, and the sense of geography is non-existent. It’s like a Michael Bay World War I film. Noomi Rapace is absolutely wasted as a gypsy woman, whose role seems to only exist in order to have some sort of woman in a film that doesn’t need one in the slightest. Her scenes only serve to distract from the only reason we want to see the Sherlock Holmes films: to watch the banter between Downey Jr. and Law. It’s a lazy device.

Ritchie does a good amount of things right here, but ideally, the origin story in a superhero franchise is a point to build from, and the sequels get better in Round 2 (see: X-Men, Spiderman, Superman, Batman, Hellboy). All you have to do is maintain the things that worked in the first film and raise the stakes, usually with a stronger villain. Ritchie achieves the latter but neglects the former: he gets lost in trying to get bombastic that the chemistry and charms eventually gets left by the wayside. In the end, it’s a little too effortful, a little too noisy, a little too… off. Full-blown fans of the franchise will still be completely satisfied, I have no doubt. I enjoyed the first one a great deal, but found myself left wanting by this sequel. The film ends with a couple of clever and unexpected moments, which leave me hopeful for improvement when this game advanced to its inevitable next stage.

~ by russellhainline on December 31, 2011.

One Response to “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows: This Game’s Players Take A Small Step Backward”

  1. Love these movies! You’re right- Jude Law and Robert Downey are great together, though it bothers me that the writers are trying to make Holmes look homosexual when, in Sir Arthur’s books, he’s a cocaine-addicted, OCD intellectual too focused on his work to be interested in relationships. Hmmm, ok- I can see their point in just deciding to go with the homoerotic thing… 😛

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