I think in my enthusiasm to review this film was such I burnt out all desire to write the damn thing. So it’s taken me a few days to get around to it. But this is my first official review of a 2012-released film (in Australia anyway) so let's get to it.
I don’t know much about Sherlock Holmes, that is to say that I’ve never read any of the books, though I have watched the first film in this new Guy Ritchie series, and I wasn’t that impressed by that one. It wasn’t a bad movie by any stretch, it was certainly better than most, but it didn’t blow me away. My only frame of reference for Sherlock Holmes is the Steven Moffat written series Sherlock (2010) that I thought was exquisite. Seeing as they’re both contemporary interpretations of the one character I think that a comparison is appropriate to help me illustrate what I thought were some of the flatter elements of the film, though this doesn’t mean I thought the film was bad.
First, the good bits: The action is great. The hand-to-hand fighting sequences were phenomenal, and reminded me of Batman: Arkham City, though that’s probably just me. The highlight of the movie was where the main characters escape through a forest while being shot at, which was brilliantly scored and excitingly executed. The fast-slow-fast style of action was visually arresting, and a great way to pace and clearly present events as they transpire. I don’t think that it was inspired by some of Zack Snyder’s work, though I’ve always enjoyed those kinds of sequences in both those directors’ films. Ritchie’s Sherlock makes every move like a chess player, and it’s interesting and fun how they portray this on screen. Even in events of pure chaos is there that element of control, speed and precision. I was out of breath after the movie as my friends and I ran fast, then slowed down, ran fast, then slowed down. Its great when something sticks with you visually like that, the same of which can be said of the score, with its memorable chords and recognisable themes.
The acting is strong. Noomi Rapace brings a strange beauty to her role. She’s an odd looking woman in my opinion, exotically beautiful in some scenes, rough and gypsy-looking in others, though she adds some weight to an otherwise small role. Same can be said of Jared Harris as Professor Moriarty, he needed more screen time. He filled the role with the right amount of intelligence, grace and menace, though his presence was limited. Stephen Fry makes a nice (kind of) cameo, as does Kelly Reilly, whom I’m kind of in love with, and Eddie Marsan returning as Lestrade. All do their jobs competently, as do the leads, but my problem is with the set up of the characters rather than the performances.
This leads to my comparison of the two leads with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Holmes and Watson respectively. The dynamic of the two, in my opinion, works better than the dynamic of Downey Jnr and Law, which I think comes down to writing.
With Moffat’s Sherlock, Holmes is a self-proclaimed ‘high functioning sociopath’, with little to no friends or human companionship. He doesn’t know how to deal with people very well, not so much an issue of awkwardness, and more an issue of apathy for such things. His intelligence and arrogance alienate people around him, and it’s up to Freeman’s Watson to act as the emotional and moral centre of the show. Holmes, for all his strengths, is an apathetic and at times dangerous man, and we fear him as much as fear for him. Watson attempts to bring out Holmes’ humanity; acting to complete this incomplete man, creating an engaging duo.
There is no fearing for Ritchie’s Sherlock. Downey Jnr fills his character with a little self-awareness. His arrogance isn’t aggravating; it’s charming and buffoonish. His antics don’t inspire concern from Watson, merely annoyance. And it’s that self-awareness that I think ruins him; he doesn’t need help, he needs a good slap and should be told to behave. This to me makes Downey Jnr’s Sherlock a more complete character, a man who knows better but is controlled by his addiction to the hunt. Self-awareness suggests a possibility of improvement, and if he becomes a responsible man, what use is there for Watson?
I think that’s a question that the filmmakers made when making the film, what to do with Watson. He spends the first act (and half of the second) resisting Holmes and making declarations of a divorce of sorts from Holmes and his antics. There are many attempts made by the story to emasculate Watson; though Sherlock dresses as a woman, it is Watson who wears the dress. He is concerned about marriage, monogamy and scarfs. Watson is the one cleaning up the mess, the one stitching the wounds and tending to the bandages. There is even a moment where Holmes dances with Rapace’s Simza only to dance with Watson. Seeing as Holmes was leading with Simza, we can only assume he leads with Watson, feminising him. Throughout the film Holmes dreams of adventure and intrigue, while Watson dreams of home life and responsibility. Watson represents the wet blanket, the nagging wife cast against (what I feel is a representation of) a carefree stereotypical dude.
Most of this, however, is done for humour. Really, Law’s Watson is more sidekick than partner: a lot of the film could have taken place without him around. Despite declarations by cast and crew to the contrary, A Game of Shadows is more about the action and the intrigue and less about ruminations on the Holmes and Watson dynamic. Could American audiences have handled a darker, more dangerous Holmes? It just feels like with a more rounded Holmes we end up with a waste of a Watson. So despite that little nagging issue somewhat preventing me from engaging with the film more, there was a certain set piece I couldn’t get my head around (how the fuck did they build that castle all the way up that fucking mountain?). But the film was a lot of fun overall. I certainly liked it more than I did the first one. The music was great, the action was fun and the whole thing was beautifully shot. Not a bad was to spend your time.
PS: there's a moment where Sherlock looks like Heath Ledger Joker. I don't think it was intentional, but it was annoying. For me, anyway.