Get a room! “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows”

January 9, 2012

Okay, so when we last left venerable sleuth Sherlock Holmes, he was being portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch in the BBC series which smartly and successfully transplanted the character to present-day. Ah, but we’re not talking about that show (which just returned for its second season), but instead Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, the tepid sequel to the first Guy Ritchie/Robert Downey Jr. outing two years ago. I wish I could be as enthusiastic about this movie as I was about that one, but it’s sort of hard to get into a good Holmes mystery when the leads spend the whole movie looking like they’re on the verge of making out.

More on that later. First, a rundown: in AGOS, Sherlock Holmes squares off against his greatest nemesis, Professor Moriarty. This is kind of a strange decision, since there’s most-likely gonna be a third one, and I don’t know who Ritchie and Co. are gonna trot out as the villain now that Holmes has already met his arch-nemesis. Maybe Bigfoot. Or a aliens. Loch Ness is close to London, right?

Anyway, Watson is about to get married, but Holmes plays the part of the party animal who’s all like, “No way, dude! Come on. Let’s go out and get wasted!” Only rather than following up the “get wasted” part by seeing Rush in concert, he convinces Watson to accompany him on one more adventure. Now, this request is lent a certain urgency by the spate of bombings that plagues London. While the authorities believe said bombings are politically-motivated (when you start to narrow it down, there are a lot of people who like bombing London), Holmes sees the hand of the nefarious Professor Moriarty at work. How, you ask? Shut up, that’s how. Yeah, that’s pretty much how this movie works.

So, basically, Holmes and Watson end up in France, where they hook up with some gypsies and bring Noomi Rapace along for the ride, because, well, why the heck not? Pretty soon Holmes and Watson track Moriarty down to a munitions factory in the forests of Germany where we get a long action sequence that’s cribbed from 85% of all James Bond movies. Holmes and Watson and Noomi infiltrate Blofeld’s Moriarty’s lair only to be discovered and have to shoot their way out. And shoot they do. Holy fuck, there’s more ordinance expended in this sequence than in the first half hour of Saving Private Ryan.

And it all culminates in a race against the clock to prevent a suicide bombing at a diplomatic conference at a Swiss resort. Just like the end of From Paris With Love. Or a million other bad action movies. Anyway, the bombing is foiled, but Holmes and Moriarty go over Reichenbach falls together.  Oh no! Is Holmes dead? Of course not, idiot. This franchise is making money.

You can kind of see where my impatience with this movie comes from. They basically took the plot of any generic thriller and dropped Holmes and Watson into it. And while Downey’s banter with Law is always fun, really, the guy could banter with a houseplant. We can see this in the Iron Man movies or even his non-franchise stuff. We go to a Sherlock Holmes movie to see Sherlock freaking Holmes! Specifically, we want him to awe us with that big brain of his.

Alas, exceedingly little deduction goes on in this movie. Holmes has figured out that Moriarty is behind the bombings before the movie even begins, and he knows that Moriarty has been buying up munitions companies, because shut up! He just knows! So, with these pieces of puzzle put in place offscreen, it’s not really a massive feat of brainpower to figure out that Moriarty is trying to start a war between the superpowers in Europe. I mean, you own a bunch of munitions companies, and what are munitions used for…um, er, uh…ow! Brain hurts! Problem too hard!

And then you have the aforementioned sexuality problem here. The first movie coyly planted an undercurrent of homoeroticism between Holmes and Watson, which could be read as a clever subversion (or rewriting) of every buddy cop duo, who, themselves, were borne out of Holmes in Watson. In this movie, though, these guys just look like they want to do it. And I think Guy Ritchie wants them to. He has Watson’s wife thrown from a train in the first third of the film and sidelined from the rest of it. Still, she fares better than Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), who suffers the dual indignities of being killed off within the first ten minutes, and subsequently being forgotten about. In the first film, Holmes was so enchanted by her he could barely function in her presence. In this movie he’s all, “Irene what now?”

No, the flirting, affection, and physicality occurs only between Holmes and Watson, who bicker, banter, fight, make up, rush blindly in danger to save one another, and rend their garments when they think the other is dying or dead. Oh, and Holmes dresses up like a chick in one scene and spoons with Watson to avoid machine-gun fire. Yeah, that happens. At some point, this all stop being coy and seems genuinely plantitive. You want these two crazy kids to end together, if only to alleviate the misery Holmes feels when he’s without Watson. 

Oh yeah; and speaking of machine-guns, this movie is lousy with them. Guy Ritchie proves himself less the British answer to Quentin Tarantino than the British answer to Tony Scott (I know, I know, he’s already British, just let it go), a director with a talent for empty spectacle. The machine gun fights in this movie speed up, slow down, freeze-frame, but they’re more exhausting than exhilarating.

Plus he has a character school Holmes on the C96 Mauser Broomhandle machine-pistol. Yeah, he sounds pretty badass, unless you factor in that 1) the C96 did not have a box magazine, but instead loaded through the breech with a stripper-clip, and 2) that gun wasn’t invented when this movie took place. I know it’s nitpicky, but it annoys me. Why don’t you just give the guy an Uzi while you’re at it?

In conclusion, the movie is hopelessly unoriginal expect for the homosexual subtext (which isn’t enough to save it).

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