Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Game of Shadows


Recently, the Missus treated me to a movie night: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows at the Studio Movie Grille. I enjoyed the movie, though I hesitate to use the word "thoroughly." At times, I questioned Guy Ritchie's decisions and wondered about where the movie was going, both artistically and plot-wise. But in the end, he took us somewhere cool and fun, and I give it 4 out of 5.

Three Up

1. The Allusions. My absolute favorite part of the movie, hands down, was all the references to the canon.  I have read all 56 stories and all 4 novels. I have spent significant amounts of time thinking about the stories and who Sherlock Holmes "really is."* Anyway, I am very familiar with the Holmesian Universe, as originally imagined. And here's the thing: This movie is so dadgum full of allusions. One of my favorite early moments was when Mycroft said something about "If you don't solve this problem, I'm going to have to go to some rubbishy place called Reichenbach." Knowing my way around Holmesian Europe, I knew exactly where we would end up. And I loved it.

*Here's my thumbnail sketch: He's a fictional recreation of the logical side of the brain. He's sort of the Hyde half of Jekyll, if you traded evil for the Baconian method. Which becomes all the more interesting when you note that Dr. Jekyll and Dr. Watson share a profession.

2. Casting.

2a. Stephen Fry. When Stephen Fry stepped on screen, I thought "No way . . . no effin way!" Simply put, he was amazing as Mycroft and exactly how I imagined Mycroft. All I can say is: Read The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter or The Bruce-Partington Plans. Mycroft was never one of my favorite characters, but to see him played so perfectly by such a charming actor pushed this movie to a new level for me.

2b. Jared Harris. Wait, who? The British guy from Mad Men? One and the same. He has the hands-off brilliance of the literary Moriarty. Again, not one of my favorite characters from the books, but Harris does an amazing job turning Conan Doyle's attempt to escape Holmes into a brilliant, cold, and compelling character. By the way, I heard one group of reviewers complaining about his crime. I say this: At the turn of the 20th century, we didn't have "war crimes" yet. The idea of owning the munitions plant and the bandage factory, then starting a war between two countries that already hate each other? Only Moriarty would have thought of that.

3. The Music. If you saw the first one, this is more of the same. Hans Zimmer is pretty good, I guess.

Three Down

1. Sequelitis. Even with all the good stuff, Ritchie still struggled to avoid doing everything bigger, better, and more explosive. I shouldn't say he struggled with it; he just did it. More narrated slow-motion planning (with the very best saved for last), more steampunk sensibility, more explosions and bullets tearing through the wind. I like it all just fine, but, at times, I felt like he was trying too hard. Which is really a shame, because with a cast like this, you don't even have to try.

2. Lack of Lestrade and Adler. Lestrade happens to be one of my favorite characters from the books, and he was noticeably missing from the movie. Irene Adler I could take or leave, but I never think Rachel McAdams takes away from a movie. These are two major characters in the Holmesian Universe, and they got remarkably short shrift. All I'm sayin is: You should have had Lestrade break up the bachelor's party melee. Maybe next time.

3. Comic book style. If I have one over-arching complaint about Ritchie's interpretation of Sherlock Holmes, it is that Ritchie seems to view Holmes as some kind of precursorial superhero, a sort of Superman before Clark Kent. To me, Conan Doyle was doing more than creating a superhero. He was setting forth a way of living and trying to get us to ask ourselves, Would I want to live like that? For Holmes, there is no maybe; there is only yes or no. There is no hope; there is only determinism. There is no value except the obvious and extrinsic value. Watson plays the foil. He is an everyman in every sense of the word. He falls in love; he is loyal; he has hope and believes in people. Conan Doyle sets the two side by side and asks, Who would you rather be? Ritchie, on the other hand, creates a dynamic duo, a sort of Superman and Robin. His Holmes has no weakness.

But that's better than a deerstalker hat and cries of "Elementary, my dear Watson!"

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