Monthly Archives: February 2012

My Ten Cents On: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

So the 2012, the year when Hollywood decided to unleash all its awesomeness, has begun, and it has kicked off with the much-anticipated (by others) sequel Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. As you can tell by the parenthesis, I wasn’t one of those people excited to see this film, mainly because I found myself disappointed with the first one. Sherlock Holmes was much more of an action hero versus detective. The detective work was such a sideline that it felt like he was just stating things out of thin air in order to further the plot.

Now, I understand that this was characteristic of Holmes, that he was legendary for his skill of deduction, but after watching how many slow-motion fight scenes, and chase sequences, and gun fights, the detective-work feels like an afterthought. Its as if the writers were thinking: “Everyone knows Sherlock Holmes is a brilliant detective, so we need to find a unique angle! No one’s ever made him a generic action star with the personality of a drug addict before! We can just add in the detective work later.” The action took the forefront (don’t deny it please) and the detective work took a back seat. (Much like most TV and movie interpretations of Batman. That is, minus the work of Bruce Timm (Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, etc.).

The point is, they gave Holmes a Hollywood make-over that I didn’t have too much of a penchant for. And though I admire Iron Man for bringing Robert Downey Jr. back into the Hollywood spotlight, he’s been going a little too far with his ad-lib performances of late. But this is still a high-budget, highly-marketed Hollywood blockbuster, so I still went into the theater to give it a shot, and just try and have a good time. So, without any further ado, aside from a warning for SPOILERS, here’s my thoughts on Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

+ Moriarty

Refined Bad-assery.

One thing I did love about this movie was that the villain was absolutely fantastic. Jared Harris played his role to a T. I mean, its probably not gonna net him an Oscar, but he provided a whole lot of entertainment. For one thing, he proved to be more than a worthy adversary for Sherlock Holmes, being one step ahead of Sherlock most of the way. He anticipated most of Holmes‘ moves and outwitted him several times throughout the movie. This provided a genuine moment where I was actually wondering how Sherlock was going to beat him.

His first scene is very memorable, and I have to spoil this a bit, sorry. He meets Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), who has been working for him all this time, in a restaurant, 5 minutes into the film. He is disappointed that his instructions were intercepted by Sherlock Holmes, which he attributes to her infatuation with him. He then orders the entire restaurant to vacate, and poison’s Irene‘s tea, sealing her fate by having a very sudden and acute tuberculosis attack. He kills the love interest 5 minutes into the movie! That is bad-ass! and I really liked it. I mean, it would have been nicer if the Irene and Sherlock had more romantic scenes early in the movie, or even in the previous one, just to establish that strong emotional connection, so that the death would be much more powerful, but killing the main love interest of the first movie so early in the second, still not that bad a decision on the part of the writers!

Moriarty, well played, sir. Well played.

+ Atmosphere

Gotta give it up for the prop, costume and set people.

Okay, this is a broad one, because it encapsulates music, set, costume, and coloration. I can’t give credit to any one element, but as a whole, they painted a pretty decent picture of a 19th century Europe that had a little “steam-punk” science fiction scattered around. They were able to throw in enough classic and new elements to create a world where the anachronistic inventions didn’t feel out of place.

Some movies, I’d occasionally feel like the merging of two elements didn’t work out (such as in Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, when Lucas and Spielberg badly mixed the 1920’s adventuring style of Indiana Jones, with the hype of Science Fiction in the 40’s and 50’s, the time that the movie was set in). But the mixing of the historic and sci-fi elements were pretty well done in this movie, even better than the first one, in my honest opinion.

+ The supporting actors

This is totally different from “characters”, because, I have a gripe about the characters. I loved the actors and their performances, but the way their characters were developed and set up, was all very lack luster. That being said, I blame none of that on the people who were acting in this one.

I am a huge fan of Stephen Fry, so when I heard he was to play Sherlock Holmes‘ brilliant older brother Mycroft, I was really excited for the comedic banter he’d bring to the table. With an air of British refinement, and the snide attitude of a man who is very aware of his mental aptitude, Fry plays Mycroft fantastically. I had a laugh almost every time he was on screen. And the best part, he really felt like an older brother to Sherlock, helping him out on his plans, but never looking like he was underneath his brother. In fact, Fry played Mycroft in a way that made him appear superior to Sherlock in many ways, and that the only difference was that Sherlock went to wilder, more exciting pursuits with his intellect.

I'm snide, witty, and intelligent... and I know it.

I also loved Noomi Rapace as playing a traveling gypsy. I loved her when she did the three movies of the Swedish “Millennium” series (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc.), and playing another exotic persona (probably not as crazy as Lizbeth Salander) was right up her alley. I am worried that she may be on the road to becoming typecast in that sort of role, but she was still a lot of fun to watch here. She has an interesting look to her face, very sharp features that help her play these exotic characters, and she knows how to use her facial expressions really well.

She isn't your typical Hollywood eye candy, yet she has her charm.

I also have to say that I enjoyed Jude Law’s performance. It wasn’t anything break out, and if you’ve enjoyed his stuff before, you’ll enjoy this again. I don’t know, the kind of performance he gave, I tend to expect off of him, and so he did well, if not for the mere fact that I can’t think of a bad thing he did.

+ The slow-mo escape through the forest and other visuals

Eye-gasm.

Every once in a while, Hollywood produces amazing visuals that just stick into your head, such as the incredible corridor fight scene in Inception, the absolutely jaw-droppingly amazing multi-cam scene in The Green Hornet (a must-see scene, you can skip the rest of the movie), or the slow-mo fight scene in 300. Well, this was another one. The use of bullet time, revolving camera shots, use of high-speed cameras, the forest, CGI, the blocking of the characters and the composition made for an amazing couple of minutes.

I don’t know what else to say, its one of those scenes that have your eyes widen, your mouth drop, and make you forget everything else you’ve ever known outside of the theater. Great scene.

The movie had a lot of great shots, I will give it that. It was pretty stunning. The action scenes were shot pretty well, which I enjoyed, and a lot of care went into all of that set and props, so it was a pleasure to see it shot with that same amount of care. This was visually stunning, though I don’t think the muted color tone of the film would look good in 3-D.

Did I mention that the explosions looked GREAT?!

If only that same amount of effort was put into dialogue…

– Dialogue

This was one of the cases where witty banter went too far. I know its Sherlock Holmes, and he’s supposed to be really intelligent, but catering to the “I want to think when I watch a movie” crowd should have been thrown out the window when you made this series into an action flick. There’s so much action, that when you have time to settle down, you’re not ready to be bombarded with Robert Downey Jr.’s quick, medically induced, machine gun declarations of 4-syllabled terms, which could be told in much simpler language, that you skirt over most of what he’s saying.

The first movie had a little too much quick and non-essential dialogue, but not enough to really be distracting. This one though had a lot more moments of dialogue that most people would drown out. I think they made the same mistake that Jon Favreau did in Iron Man 2, gave Robert Downey Jr. more room to adlibl. I love Robert Downey Jr., don’t get me wrong, but I find that he’s so much, MUCH, better with a script, that’s all.

– Point-of-view

After all the amazing action scenes, this fight seemed like a ho-hum affair.

One thing that this movie franchise tries to do, which most (if not all) other Sherlock movies and TV shows don’t do, is to give Holmes‘ mental processes an internal monologue in order to have the audience relate to him. I mean, its an interesting premise, but they didn’t execute it well. For the longest time, people were told the Sherlock Holmes stories from the point-of-view of Watson, who for all intents and purposes serves more as an observer, as the carriage for the reader/audience to ride on when looking at the legend that is Sherlock Holmes.

This time around, they tried to show us Holmes as the lead, trying to let us understand him, and feel for him. There was too much input into his thought process, that the internal monologue felt more like a “Deus Ex Machina” than anything else. He just concluded this and that, without the audience able to follow the ins and outs of his thinking, so we didn’t really get to understand him. We only really get to see him analyze fight tactics, which, if you’ve read any of the books, is never put in the fore. These fight analysis scenes would work better for a martial arts movie, not a detective flick.

Never mind that centering on Holmes totally diminishes Watson‘s role to a simple sidekick. Watson may seem to have partner status, but lets face it, plot-wise he is a sidekick. So they made up for it by having him kick-butt too, and know how to shoot guns well, and occasionally do detective work of his own. So… I don’t get the partnership, they made Watson seem like a Sherlock light.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking, Sherlock 1? I think I'm thinking what you're thinking, Sherlock 2!

Have any of you seen House? (pardon the jump but I’ve got a point I promise.) In one season, House fired his entire team, and spend the first few episodes of the next season creating his own elaborate parody of those reality show competitions in order to find out who among the prospective doctors he’d pick for his new team. In one episode, House and this old doctor shared so many similar ideas in trying to figure out what disease a patient had. In the end, the old doctor was the one “fired” because House did not need someone who thought exactly like him. He needed people who could think of things he could not, who could bring in different ideas, because a team of like-minded people wouldn’t work. This was the problem with Holmes and Watson. While there may have been a few differences in each of their personalities, their similar manner of speech and their overlapping skill sets just made the partnership a little stale.

– Inconsistent dramatic tone

Irene‘s death was such a huge moment, but it never felt that way. They failed to capitalize on that feeling of heartache that should have pervaded Sherlock‘s character. While it went over brilliantly in establishing that Moriarty was indeed a bad-ass, it failed to show that Sherlock Holmes had lost a piece of his soul (which I’m guessing was the point, otherwise they wouldn’t need to pay megabucks to re-hire Rachel McAdams).  Mufasa had like 10 minutes of screen time, yet when he died, you felt it instantaneously. Irene had a whole movie to establish her cat-and-mouse love affair with Holmes, yet when she was nixed from the movie, it was kinda sad, but not really.

They missed a huge opportunity to have Sherlock break down, question his skill or his motives. If they wanted to humanize him with the viewpoint, like I mentioned before, this would have helped so much in creating an entirely new image of Holmes a very human one, and having Watson there to pick him up and soldier on, that would have elevated Watson up to at least Samwise Gamgee levels of sidekickery, which would have been great to see.

– Supporting Characters

I’ll make this short. Most of the characters are underdeveloped. Without any exposition on Mycroft, he comes off as weird, Simza Heron (Rapace), apart from the whole: “I must find my brother” element is given a very one dimensional role (something that became deeper only because Noomi Rapace was the one acting). I already mentioned my quips with Watson and Irene above, just toss those in this category too.

My Cent’s Worth: 6/10

It was okay. I can tell you that most of the points come from Jared Harris playing Moriarty and a little came from the additions of Noomi Rapace and Stephen Fry. I also give major props to set, props and cinematography. If atmosphere was all that made a movie, I’d give this a ten. But apart from these, this movie didn’t wow me as much as I would have liked.  If not for Downey Jr. going off into the deep end with the dialogue and a waste of a few plot points, and some better exposition and set up, this would have been a great film. But I think you’ll enjoy it nonetheless. I just don’t expect it to be one of those movies you’d have to own on DVD anytime soon.