So is Sherlock Holmes 2: Game of Shadows a slovenly, slapped-together mess of a big-budget Hollywood sequel, like you might’ve heard?
Oh, yeah! You bet it is! One of the slovenliest!
Now ask me if I care!
Thing is, something bad happened recently, never mind what, and it’s turned my life into a big silent blank like one of the sets from the movie 2001. In other words, YOU may not need loud Hollywood nonsense—you being some sort of thoughtful, high-minded type who values nuanced character arcs and tidy three-act structures—but I need it, and it’s actually more soothing if it involves a lot of rote, gratuitous yelling and shooting and explosions and hooha. And yes, I’ll be heading out shortly to see Mission Impossible 4 in IMAX, thanks for asking.
Sherlock 2 does the usual sequel thing of reviving and ramping up all the bits people liked in Sherlock 1. That up-tempo Irish tune that plays over chase and fight scenes, that’s back again. So are Holmes’ pre-cog envisionings of fight scenes in slo-mo before he actually destroys his opponent in regular-mo. Rachel McAdams returns briefly as the demi-monde adventuress Irene Adler, but Holmes is even more queerly fixated on Jude Law as Dr. John Watson than before, only queer has resolved itself into definitely gay.
Robert Downey Jr. is more haggard and dark-eyed than last time, plus he’s taken on a seedy, greasy-haired look that testifies to his emotional distress at Watson’s marriage. In Sherlock 1, Downey tossed off a performance that seemed semi-improvised; this time he throws it away entirely as if he didn’t care whether the audience caught what he was doing or not, mumbling lines down into his vest, hardly seeming to hit his marks for the camera in some scenes. Is it Holmes’ distress or Downey’s hubris we’re looking at, now that Downey’s got two action-adventure franchises going and everybody loves him?
The new elements in Sherlock 2 are:
1. Stephen Fry as Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, amusingly played here as older, fatter, and feyer, and inclined to call Sherlock “Sherley.” He has a memorable nude scene.
2. Noomi Rapace of Swedish-Girl-With-Dragon-Tattoo fame is nothing to write home about here playing a gypsy who knows stuff about the international conspiracy to start World War I twenty years early. That serves as a plot of sorts for the sequel.
3. And the inevitable Professor Moriarty, mastermind of the head-start-on-World-War-I plot, played by Jared Harris. He does that British thing of being quietly hammy, which seems like an oxymoron till you watch a lot of British actors do it.
4. The better new villain is Moriarty’s second-in-command, an English sharpshooter named Col. Moran played by Paul Anderson. He’s got an excellent, unhandsome, animal-like face, and a general air of angry competence which makes you believe in him no matter how absurd the shenanigans get.
Director Guy Ritchie has a gift for showcasing certain male faces; they seem to inspire him to come up with better shots, better angles, better business. Women don’t interest him. Poor Rachel McAdams never looked less distinctive than in the Sherlock movies, which seem to sound the death knell for her chances of becoming a big star instead of a perpetual up-and-comer. And Noomi Rapace definitely picked the wrong director to work with if she was hoping to make an initial splash with American audiences.
There’s a nice setting for a climactic shoot-out scene in the woods, a sort of exemplary World War I woods, grey and snowy, with gaunt trees offering no cover. Looks like the scene of the famous march through Belleau Woods in The Big Parade, the 1925 silent film about the “Great War.” Only in that one the men stalked through it getting shot down with chilling regularity, and in Sherlock 2 the scene is Guy-Ritchied, with everybody sprinting pell-mell, bullets and canon-fire ripping trees apart in slo-mo burst of shrapnel, dirt, and splintered wood. Excellent motion studies of actors and their stand-ins running, leaping, falling—very pleasant to watch.
Ritchie and his editor James Herbert were on the job for that sequence, clearly. But a lot of other scenes are practically in a rough-cut state, making you wonder if the filmmakers were actually racing against a deadline and didn’t make it. Scenes that run on too long with no sense of pacing, scenes with such slack performances in them, you think there must have been better takes to choose from. Did they literally not have time to go through takes and try them out and cut them together differently and all the things you have to do to save weak scenes?
But what the hell, let’s not get picky about it. Sherlock 2 is still set in fake-doomy Victorian Era London, still features Downey/Holmes and Law/Watson in love, still has wall-to-wall shooting and noisy fisticuffs. It still stops you from thinking for two hours plus. These days I don’t mind paying ten bucks for that. Others, whose lives are not so blank, might feel more discriminating.
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