Sunday, December 18, 2011

Love: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Guys, we need to talk, ok?  Just, like, take a seat or something so I can try to explain to you how this works: can we please remember that Guy Ritchie's version of Sherlock Holmes is not a fancy BBC adaptation?  It's just, well, it's just not.  Can we please also remember that the first Sherlock Holmes (while your memories have shaded it positively) was far from a great film at the time of its release. It was a good film. It was a fun film.  It had two men who shared a surprising amount of on-screen chemistry.  But...it was also meandering, murky, long, and Rachel McAdams was supremely irritating.  Still, what it was really about, that is, what you likely really took from it was Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law having a grand old time being a bantering, turn of the century odd couple.  Now, use your powers of deductive reasoning, my dear naysayer, and know before you go that Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is more of the same.  It is not out for plainclothes espionage, sleuthing and skulduggery.  It is an extension of the first installment, but, like nearly all of Ritchie's films, has staged its characters for full-force engagement in rampant bad-assery and sharp, silly dialogue.  That is, essentially, all it's about.
If the first film was a pleasant escape that reminded audiences that Sherlock Holmes was, at heart, much more than a tweedy crime-buster in a deerstalker hat, Game of Shadows is the next step in the character's evolutionary development.  This episodic installment is cut from the cloth of all standard issue action flicks. The only difference is that the bromantic elements here tend to queer our expectations, in a manner of speaking.  While officially the plot centers around the proper introduction of notorious nemesis Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris), the real catastrophe for Sherlock Holmes is, more likely, the marriage of John Watson.  Luckily for Holmes, Moriarty's dastardly plans involve the dispatching of Holmes' loved ones.  So, naturally, Sherlock must invite himself on his best friend's honeymoon and recklessly involve him in one more adventure.  He's essentially already solved the case, you see, but he needs Watson by his side for bickering moral support. The game is afoot, there are a great many explosions, we get more of that absurd slow-mo fight choreography, and we completely lose track of any actual plot for at least an hour.  Noomi Rapace (the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) is on hand as some sort of gypsy who has some sort of brother who is caught up in some sort of nasty business, but all of that is pretty much just a huge excuse for her to simply be present.  The plot doesn't matter here.  Rapace is just there, I think, so the camera can cut away to her "wow, you guys are such a cute couple" expression as the boys flirt via argument.
By all technical counts, Game of Shadows is a big dumb Hollywood cacophony of shrapnel, sight gags, and poor planning.  Sherlock's powers of observation are pushed to a ridiculous, nearly supernatural level.  And, to make matters worse, the film falls victim to a weird alchemy by which its brilliant protagonists are magically transformed into lovable goofuses. Where we're used to Sherlock Holmes as a mouthy, drug-addled bastard with a genius IQ and autism-spectrum social graces, in Game of Shadows he's occasionally reduced to a slightly more adept Inspector Closeau.  There are retrospectively stupid disguises, scenes predicated on the notion that Sherlock Holmes in smeared lipstick is funny, Stephen Fry naked is hilarious, or Robert Downey Jr. trotting away on a miniature pony might be a laugh riot.  These things probably shouldn't be funny. My brain tells me that there's something juvenile about them. Yet, admittedly, they are. They are completely funny. I laughed like an idiot during this movie. No, seriously, I don't think you understand: like an idiot. As in, my friends and I were the people caught in the giggle loop who could not stop finding every slight absurdity this film threw at us as hysterical as intended.  We may never know for sure whether the other theater goers were laughing with us or because of us, but one thing is for sure: while Sherlock Holmes may not be a "good" movie, I had the same reaction I did to the first one...I totally loved it. I had a fantastic time. Even now, as I think about Robert Downey Jr. on that little horse, I'm stifling my laughter. If I imagine him saying the words "Hedgehog goulash" I lose it. I CANNOT EXPLAIN THIS.  HEDGEHOG GOULASH.  PAUSE FOR CRAZY PERSON LAUGH.  Instead, I can only say that there's a definite charm to Game of Shadows and it's one I'm anything but immune to. This may be my Kryptonite.  I'm incapable of evaluating this film as anything other than I LAUGHED A LOT.
Of course, if we had to name that charm we could probably get away with calling it Robert Downey Jr.  This is his movie.  Forget what you know about Arthur Conan Doyle's literary super sleuth and accept that in the Ritchie films the character has been surrendered to and reinvented by Robert Downey Jr. RDJ's Sherlock is, essentially, just RDJ having a bloody good time playing a character who appears to be basically himself with an English accent.  This is his Jack Sparrow, and he's playing it as over-the-top as he can. He's eccentric, bitter, rude, manic, narcissistic, blathering, roguish, and a tremendous pain in the ass. Yet, while he destroys nearly everything he touches and shouldn't be likable, he possesses a level of self-assured charisma that makes the movie.  It's a neat little parlor trick that seems like it shouldn't be anything, but it is.  Downey's is an extended act of physical comedy punctuated by fits of smartly timed verbal retorts that fit effortlessly with Jude Law's gently bent straight-man presence.  Together, these two are the film.  In my review of the first one, I closed out my argument saying that I'd be perfectly happy watching a movie made entirely of "Sherlock being batty, snippy, and strung out at 221b Baker Street while Watson the mother hen pops in with commentary and exasperated glances."  It's not an exact fit, but if you consider Game of Shadows a version of that imaginary sequel, we may be able to close the case of why it is I like this movie.   




1 comment:

  1. Good review! This film's pretty goofy on a lot of levels, but it has a zest to it that a lot of movies this year seemed to miss.

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