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Sherlock Holmes II - Game of Shadows - The Ex-Communicator

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December 21st, 2011

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01:25 pm - Sherlock Holmes II - Game of Shadows
I went to see the new Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes film, Game of Shadows. The steampunk one with Robert Downey and Jude Law. I think this is an improvement on the first in the series. When Ritchie made the first he was finding his way, wondering how to pitch it, perhaps even wondering if he could get away with it at all, and the film was edited heavily between the trailer and theatrical release. This one seems - like a James Bond film - to be part of an extended franchise, rather than a sequel. It has the defects of a franchise film: some lack of urgency, a constraint to the imagination, which operates lavishly but within tight and arbitrary parameters, which ultimately render it a bit pointless and shallow. Like the Steampunk genre itself. And yet I thoroughly enjoyed it.

In this case I don't mind its defects. How often I read friends saying that about films (or books or whatever) which don't do much for me. I didn't even like Inception much, let alone Iron Man or Pirates of the Caribbean. This one I like. Yes, Guy Ritchie is an upper class Mockney wanker. Yes, his attitude to Romany culture is kind of odd. Yes, he chucks mannerisms at the screen because he lacks depth. You know what, I still liked it. Some of Ritchie's films (like Snatch for example) seem to work, and others are a total shambles. This one is at the good end of the range.

It's partly that Downey and Law are more or less my age, and on the whole I find people my own age more attractive than younger actors. The use of female characters is better than in the previous film. There is virtually no shoehorned-in romancing: neither Holmes nor Watson relate to Noomi Rapace in that way at all, instead she's another competent protagonist. Watson's wife functions as a minor but - again - competent character in her own right, deciphering codes and bossing Mycroft around, rather than a squealing victim, or scolding mum-surrogate.

Steampunk is a winter genre, and this is a nice chilly winter film. The action sequences make very extensive use of time-freezing slo-mo, with that foreground focus which solidifies little bit of flying debris (sorry, don't know the technical term), and Ritchie is more confident in using this fast-slow-freeze-fast style to externalise Holme's analytical thought processes. It's not deep but it is quite clever. Compared to many action films we see nowadays (Michael Bay and his emulators) the action sequences make sense. I mean they make cine-literate use of space and pacing, so that you understand the flow of events, and whatever peril our heroes are experiencing. Obviously they don't make sense in any real universe, but they flow in a real-like way.

The casting and acting is good. Ritchie seems to be a director that actors like working with, like Tarantino. No idea what he does but the general feel is that all involved are committed to the project, and to giving the audience a good time, rather than frantically signalling 'I am better than this you know, I went to RADA'. Jared Harris, late of Mad Men, is a restrained Moriarty. A good instinct to pitch him at that level, not competing with the colourful leads.

Finally - talking about colourful leads - I have to mention the slash aspect. Clearly Ritchie and his colleagues cottoned on to the significance of this aspect during the making of the first film, and pumped it up during editing. I quite often dislike self-conscious pandering to lady-fans in films (for example in Eagle of the Ninth) because I feel that neither the actors or the director have any feel for the woman's erotic gaze, but are just dutifully going through the motions. But for some reason Ritchie seems to have got a better grasp of the concept, and makes it more fun. Perhaps it's that I'm not a very romantic soul, but I like it better like this - a cheerful eyeful every now and then, and not a replication of every tedious hetero-romantic cliche.

(7 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:December 21st, 2011 04:52 pm (UTC)
Very good review. I saw the film yesterday, and also enjoyed it a lot. I'd gone to the first one ready to scoff, and come out much happier, and I think this one probably is an improvement, although I too felt the flab of franchise beginning to encroach. Ritchie is going to have to work hard to avoid its becoming formulaic, supposing he wants to. Now he's killed off both Adler and Moriarty, he'll have to invent some villains of his own, anyway.

I did boggle a little at the idea of a pre-marriage stag party for Doctor Watson, but the OED tells me that the phrase was in use in the nineteenth century, though for any male-only gathering. And signing queues for Professor Moriarty's learned astronomical tome? Really? I find it hard to believe - and not that it matters if it's entire bunkum, really - but I'm haunted by the suspicion that such things may actually have happened. I can see Thomas Huxley being up for it.
[User Picture]
Date:December 21st, 2011 05:06 pm (UTC)
I very strongly assumed throughout that Adler had been prepared and faked her own death, and pretty much expected her to come back at the end and save them; bit disappointed she didn't. But I don't think there is anything to stop her turning out to be ALIVE AFTER ALL in the future.
[User Picture]
Date:December 21st, 2011 05:09 pm (UTC)
Well, this is true, and Moriarty may have had an oxygen supply too, for that matter. (It did worry me that Holmes was shown sniffing her tubercular hanky in a later scene - would that be quite safe? But he has a lax attitude to health and safety at the best of times.)

I suppose the truth is I'd like to see what Ritchie can do in the villain-inventing line.
[User Picture]
Date:December 21st, 2011 08:33 pm (UTC)
Absolutely, or her twin sister turning up.
[User Picture]
Date:December 21st, 2011 06:48 pm (UTC)
Glad you liked it. Cheerful bunkum is the tone I think. I liked them playing chess in furs.
[User Picture]
Date:December 29th, 2011 12:15 am (UTC)
An excellent review. Thank you.

I agree that this film is an improvement on the first. I enjoyed the first but I loved this one. Much more enjoyable on many levels, not just the slash, although I liked that too.

The bromance was, for me at any rate, much more to do with intimacy (as when John clasps Sherlock's wounded ankle after yanking the splinter out of it on the train, and the hand-holding going into the church, or when Sherlock closes his eyes to - I assume - preserve his last sight of John before tumbling over the Falls) and less to do with Sherlock's kind of childlish jealousy of John's relationship with Mary as in the first movie.

Although the restaurant scene was well-handled, the quick despatch of Irene Adler irked me. But I am hopeful that she will magically reappear in a later movie.

And I didn't like Mary getting chucked off a train but at least she was awesome later on, in the takedown scene and in the final scene, sincerely but honestly comforting her husband.

Simza was terrific, though. Tough, clever, resourceful, well capable of defending herself, and absolutely relentless in her pursuit of and mission to rescue her brother. The fact that she was completely uninterested sexually in either Sherlock or John and they weren't interested in her was refreshing. Her skin wasn't ultra-perfect, her politics were edgy, and every time she was in arm's reach of food and drink, she started munching on something or swigging from a bottle. You don't see female characters behaving like actual human beings all that often. I loved her.
[User Picture]
Date:December 29th, 2011 02:33 pm (UTC)
every time she was in arm's reach of food and drink, she started munching on something or swigging from a bottle.

God, I never noticed but isn't that right. Great bit of characterisation.

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