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movies / December 17, 2011
By Eileen Jones

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.


Add your own

  • 1. HamsterFist  |  December 17th, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    After reading this, I could care less about Sherlock 2. (Although it seems to be a shame about the Dragon tattoo girl. She is so interestingly good looking. She commands the screen, and my boner, in those movies. Then they cast a hideous mutant to play in the Americanized version. What the fuck?)
    Anyways, I’m more interested into why your life is so blank. Though you’re not likely interested in my comment or my attempt at a bad attitude.

  • 2. James  |  December 17th, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    My life is hell too but entertainment products like this really don’t do anything to distract me from it. Actually they make it worse. I can’t stop thinking about the contempt that the people who made must have for their audience and if I’m watching it that means contempt for me. I’m sure there are people who’ve suffered much more than me without losing their minds but we all have different limits.

  • 3. bletch  |  December 17th, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    “Thing is, something bad happened recently, never mind what […]”

    if i hadn’t taken a fistful of decency pills this morning, i’d be joking that it was christopher hitchen’s death

  • 4. adam  |  December 17th, 2011 at 4:34 pm


    Your life may seem blank, but don’t forget you have a readership who loves and hangs on your every word.

  • 5. Come on, Eileen!  |  December 17th, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    Hey hey, Ms. Jones, at least you’re good at something. Think of all them sorry bastards out there that can’t even write a column or nothin’.

    Feels good to be in the Competent Persons Club, doesn’t it?

  • 6. Punjabi From Karachi  |  December 17th, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    Eileen, what can we do to make you happy?

    Would a producer or director gig allow you to channel you towards some happiness?

    Wondering about that.

  • 7. Vendetta  |  December 17th, 2011 at 6:15 pm

    I liked the first one. I’ll probably watch this one too. Sometimes drivel tastes good.

  • 8. TheDerpLives  |  December 17th, 2011 at 6:55 pm

    Did Dolan lose his job again?

  • 9. Grimgrin  |  December 17th, 2011 at 11:22 pm

    The Exiled: Quality journalism about miserable hollowed out shells of people, whose commenting trolls happen to be grotesque mockeries of human lives.

  • 10. CensusLouie  |  December 18th, 2011 at 12:28 am

    Why did The Hurt Locker win an Oscar and not Sherlock Holmes when the latter was definitely the better Lethal Weapon knockoff.

  • 11. tim  |  December 18th, 2011 at 12:38 am

    I don’t give a shit about Sherlock Holmes. I want to see your review of Young Adult. I liked it, all the critics seemed to like it, I want to know what you think of it, and if you don’t like it, I’d like to see you tear it a new asshole.

  • 12. rogereggbert  |  December 18th, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    Maybe your life is so blank because all you ever watch are big Hollywood movies. You seem to have these high expectations from these terrible movies, and constantly bemoan the downward spiral of American cinema as represented by the latest blockbuster, but you consistently ignore the best filmmakers working around. You seem to have totally inhabited the Pauline Kael “champion of pulp” role, which is redundant and unnecessary at this point because pulp has won, the auteurs lost, and the only good thing going is independent cinema and the vestiges of a better Hollywood, e.g. P.T. Anderson, the Coen Brothers.

    Please review the prestige pictures coming out lately, like We Need to Talk About Kevin or Carnage or something. More reviews like your one of True Grit, less sonnets about the way Daniel Craig holds his gun and Johnny Depp sets his jaw in the latest piece of shit.


  • 13. Zhu Bajie  |  December 18th, 2011 at 7:33 pm


    Will you take Hell Money?

  • 14. El Hombre Malo  |  December 19th, 2011 at 2:16 am

    Of course Guy Ritchie loves male faces… He married Madonna after all.

    (great piece, as usual)

  • 15. Mr. Bad  |  December 19th, 2011 at 9:59 am

    Dear Almighty Exiled Censor, I promise to donate to The eXiled before posting my next retarded comment.
    Sincerely Yours,
    “Needing Improvement”

  • 16. Destro  |  December 19th, 2011 at 11:37 am

    Sherlock Holmes 2 did midling business at the box office opening in the States. Maybe the gay subtext was a little too much for the mostly homophobic American (male) public?

  • 17. franc black  |  December 21st, 2011 at 10:12 am

    Looking forward to your review of Dragon Tattoo …

  • 18. Petkov  |  December 26th, 2011 at 9:01 pm

    Who the ^&%* will waste their time with this piece of %&^*? There, review over.

  • 19. Stephen  |  January 9th, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    I do not deserve the right to vote, let alone to comment

  • 20. jeffrey  |  July 20th, 2012 at 11:07 am

    So, do you improve all comments you do not like, or just the ones you like a lot? Perhaps some patience would pay off. If you are always looking for mindless entertainment, your review makes sense.
    Holmes 2 is hardly a masterpiece, but hardly as poor as you claim it to be.

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