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Less Elementary Than Was Hoped For

Friday, December 23, 2011

I'm smart. Well, sort of. I mean, I do well in class, can usually communicate in clever ways with my peers, and am probably a little too self-congratulatory when it comes to my ideas for scripts. But, in no way am I smart enough to be a detective, and in no way am as smart as Sherlock Holmes. The character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle makes most modern day man, and women, come to think of it, look like bumbling buffoons. And if this modern day version of Holmes is to be taken seriously as a faithful interpretation of the character, he will kick your ass, drink you under the table, and be completely helpless when it comes to bromance. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, in addition to having a title that I regret to admit I confuse with Game of Thrones, is a bigger, louder, more grandiose film than it's predecessor, and while it does do some things well, it does enough wrong and repeats enough of the mistakes from the first one to not warrant a full recommendation. Like the last one, it is still a lot of fun, but not much else.

Extreme Bromance!

With Watson literally hours away from sealing the deal with his lovely bride, Holmes is embroiled in the "most important case of [his] career". A series of bombings has been ripping their way through Europe, and France and Germany are at each other's throats. War is about to break out, and the downfall of western civilization is imminent. Holmes has deducted that all this mayhem is the handiwork of one, Professor James Moriarty, a man with seemingly limitless resources, a hand in every major, worldwide industry, and the only man who can match, if not surpass, Holmes' intellect. Now, Holmes and Watson are sent on a mad chase across Europe as they, with the aid of an enigmatic gypsy, race to stop Moriarty before his maniacal plans come to fruition.

First of all, the plot and overall conflict here is much more interesting than the occult bullshit from the last one. Moriarty is really good villain for Holmes to tangle with, and while the plot does allow for them to watch wits, it spends too much time on elaborate action sequences than any real sort of character development. That's not to say that there isn't character development. There are attempts to flesh out Holme's and Watson's relationship, but it doesn't come off as anything more than forced. The witty banter between the two is nowhere near as prevalent as it was in the first, and that's kind of a drag. It was a real pleasure hearing these two bicker and "flirt" all over the place, and there's actually not a whole lot of that. It all moves along at a decent place, and wraps all very conveniently, but it's nothing all that compelling or interesting. Moriarty is a good villain, but his evil plot is bland and nothing we haven't seen before.

Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law return as Holmes and Watson respectively. Their chemistry is just as good as it was in the last one, even if they don't have as much banter material to work with. Individually though, Downey Jr. falters a bit where Watson succeeds. Since the film tries more to explore the relationship between these two, it calls for more dramatic chops, chops that Law has honed better than Downey Jr.. As it turns out, Downey Jr.'s Holmes doesn't come off quite as charming and fun in this sequel, instead coming off, at times, a little mean and cold here. Law, on the other hand, does very well, bringing a lot of warmth to this relationship.

Noomi Rapace plays the gypsy with a card to play, Sim. Rapace is a good actress, but she is completely wasted here. Her character serves, literally, no purpose, save to provide supposed stakes in the conflict. See, her brother is working with Moriarty, but the film never explores how Sim feels about that. Poor, poor Lisbeth. She deserves better.

Excuse me. Hi. I'm special!

Luckily, the villain is top tier! Jared Harris of Mad Men takes his swell time with the role, effectively creating a intimidating and dangerous devil. Mark Strong in the first film did all right, but the film made the mistake of having him and Holmes fight it out with fists and weapons. In A Game of Shadows, it's the exact opposite. Holmes and Moriarty never, throughout the whole run, come to blows. Instead, their confrontations usually involve the two of them staring each other down over a table, and at one point, a chess board. Battles of wills, and that's exactly what it should be. Holmes does enough fighting against goons. Why should he have to do the same with someone who is his intellectual equal? He shouldn't, and the film wisely stays away from that. The battle of wills in this movie are very well done, thanks in no small part to Harris' performance.

That's not to say that there isn't action. There is a crap ton! Too much, if you ask me! There are whole sections where there is nothing but bullets, fists, and explosions. Director Guy Ritchie can direct action. Though Game of Shadows doesn't have the blood drenched grace of Tarsem Singh's Immortals or the over the top, gravity defying aplomb of Brad Bird's Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Ritchie does manage to bring in some interesting touches, namely a good amount of well done slo-mo. Though the first few action scenes aren't any special, just hyper energetic punching bouts, the big one is something to behold. The pay off is the mad dash through a forest under a hail of motor and artillery fire that has been featured pretty heavily in the marketing. The build up is a slow burn, sneak into a building and see what's going on, type thing. Stuff gradually escalates, and then it turns into an all out war. The aforementioned pay off is awesome, a elegant, well made, ballet of flame and noise... with liberal amounts of slo-mo.

But that's the only scene worth mentioning. All the other action set pieces are lame by comparison. And, being that the overall conflict isn't that interesting, the movie is actually quite a snooze. The first Sherlock Holmes wasn't anything groundbreaking, but it was never boring. There are good things here. The villain is really good; the big action set piece really delivers, and, for some reason, I liked how Holmes and Watson actually get wounded and display bruises, cuts, and the like for most of the film. They actually look like they got the shit kicked out of them. Dunno, but that was a nice touch. But, everything else is just not worth your time. There's really nothing here that wasn't already in the first one. It doesn't get a condemnation from me, but it doesn't get a full recommendation either. Just the middle ground. And that's just stupid!



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