Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sherlock Holmes: A Steampunk Bromance (With Explosions)

 You just lost...the game. Take that, shadow.

This weekend I saw Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, the sequel to 2009's flashy steampunk reboot. This 2011 edition has some critics bored and dismissive, but Roger Ebert loved it, because he is easily delighted and is also just an awesome guy who knows how to have fun.

And yeah, it has faults. Lots of them. Faults that shimmer with special effects in slow motion and then explode for no reason. But dammit, it's a fun time.

Okay, let's start with the faults. Even putting aside the fact that Guy Ritchie apparently jizzes special effects and superfluous fight scenes, there was a lot thrown in to this movie. Some of the indulgent little asides were great (the most heart-warming pigeon-feeding scene since Mary Poppins, Stephen Fry doing anything), and some just added to the run time. I can't apologize for laughing at a way-longer-than-it-needed-to-be sequence involving an adorable little pony scurrying around, though. Adorable little scurrying ponies get a lot of leeway.

Let us put on our goggles for our ride in the motorcar.

Then there's the lady issue. Obviously a movie needs a lady now and then, but what to do with them? Rachel McAdams is back in the beginning, I guess to show us Holmes is sexy and to give him even more motivation for solving crimes or maybe McAdams had a contract or something? Then Noomi Rapace's character shows up simply to be a woman on screen and also sort of help the protagonists find the McGuffin. Ironically, near the end we find out that Dr. Watson's bride Mary, who was kicked off the honeymoon by Sherlock in drag (he had his reasons), was being totally capable and awesome off-screen the whole time.

But to move to the good: Moriarty! Mad Men's Jared Harris is perfect as the math professor/supervillain. It's easy to imagine his Professor James Moriarty calmly advising graduate students and also efficiently running a worldwide criminal organization. And along with Irene Adler and Mycroft Holmes, another minor Doyle character gets some screen time: Sebastian Moran, Moriarty's "bosom friend" (Doyle's words) and top assassin. Their quiet, proper, murderous partnership gets some quick "don't worry about me!" theatrics, but the film's main bromance really lets it all hang out.

Wow, Sebastian. You look a lot better than when Paget drew you.

Downey and Jude Law are hilarious and full of chemistry again as Holmes and Watson, and there is no attempt at subtlety time around. "Lie down with me," a half-naked Holmes demands at one point. After one argument, they wrestle in a manner that threatens to impregnate Law. And there's the whole crashed honeymoon thing. But, although the trendy bromance is played up to the point of buffoonery, you always feel that there's true affection and devotion behind it. Holmes is jealous of Mary, and desperate to protect Watson, and if he has to wear a dress and lipstick and then jump around shirtless to prove his love for his friend, that is what he is going to do.

And herein lies the difference between Robert Downey Jr.'s Sherlock and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock (and really, it's silly to even pretend they're the same). In Doyle's The Sign of the Four, when Watson breaks the news to Holmes that he's marrying Mary, whom they met on a case Holmes solved but didn't get credit for, he asks Holmes what's left for him. "'For me,' said Sherlock Holmes, 'there remains the cocaine bottle.' And he stretched his long white hand up for it." Yes, Doyle's Sherlock passive aggressively mopes and shoots up. He'd still put his life on the line for Watson, but he's not going to wear a dress. And while Downey's Sherlock is quite the wooer, perhaps the closest Doyle's Sherlock was willing to get to having sex with a person was when he kept a picture of Irene Adler as a memento after she outsmarted him in "A Scandal in Bohemia." Irene Adler was bangin' dudes like a boss in that story, but Holmes certainly wasn't one of them.

But it doesn't matter. Nothing with this many explosions is trying to be true to Doyle, and that's fine (interestingly, an important sequence near the end is true to Doyle, and leaves the door wide open for a third installment). This movie is about witty, attractive guys having adorable friendships and also action stuff happening, and it does those things very well.

You never wear lipstick for me anymore.

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