When I was a kid I was obsessed with two things: Sherlock Holmes and the dubbed English language version of the Japanese TV show, Monkey. Seemingly, these two things have nothing in common; one is about an aloof, analytical, brilliant English detective – while the other is about an Asian guy in make-up doing bad karate. However, it’s clear from Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows that director Guy Ritchie has made a connection between these two, and the resulting film is exactly the kind of escapist nonsense that defined British television back in the eighties. Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes is like magician David Blaine crossed with Chuck Norris, he’s a cross-dressing bohemian Kung Fu master who also dabbles as a sleuth.
Whether all this pleases Holmes aficionados is a dubious prospect. In this sequel to the 2009 hit, everything is predictably engorged: the sets are more elaborate, the explosions are more gratuitous, the gay subtext is flagrant as opposed to demure. The moment someone says “the Reichenbach Falls”, you can pretty much guess the climax. All that’s left is for Holmes and Doctor Watson to do battle with Professor Moriarty. This time, Holmes’ nemesis is plotting the onset of World War One, twenty years early. He’s been nobbling arch dukes faster than venereal disease. But the gloves come off when Moriarty poisons the lovely Rachel McAdams, reducing her from Holmes’ leading lady to a toxic cameo in the space of one scene.
What’s up with that? Did Rachel punch Guy Ritchie in the balls? She seemed perfectly adept as the “love interest” in the last movie. In A Game of Shadows, her death doesn’t even rate a tear. She seems to have been written out to make way for a feisty Gypsy, played by original Swedish Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, Noomi Rapace. I for one was a bit thrown by this decision, as McAdams and Robert Downey Jr seemed to have real chemistry in the first Sherlock Holmes. But such are the machinations of Hollywood, I guess, where one minute you’re second billing, and the next, you’re lying dead. The rumour that Brad Pitt might take the role of Professor Moriarty is also proved misguided. Instead, we get a competent turn from Mad Men’s Jared Harris. He’s a less risky choice, obviously. But there’s none of the frisson you would have got from watching Brad toy with Rob.
The movie is also one of the dingiest blockbusters of the year, with scarcely a scene that isn’t lit like they were using energy efficient light-bulbs. I know London in the nineteenth century wasn’t exactly world-renowned for its air quality, or the brilliance of its illuminations, but you have a hard time seeing Holmes and Watson half the time, let alone discerning what they’re up to. As director, Guy Ritchie appears to be asleep at the wheel. This isn’t the same man who put a cattle prod to British cinema. As sequels have a way of doing, somehow Part 2 has sapped everyone’s enthusiasm for the material. There’s a journeyman feel to the story telling and execution, with very little that shows true passion for the tales of Sherlock Holmes.
I still can’t get over how they casually murdered Rachel McAdams. Moriarty’s whole: “That’s gotta sting!” speech (where he confesses to the murder) doesn’t seem to ruffle Robert Downey Jr. His reaction is more as if Moriarty had taken a whiz in his deerstalker, rather than offing the love of this man’s life. Bunging-in a sexy Gypsy is no fit substitute. She’s only there for the sake of the plot. I wouldn’t mind, if she did more than pout. But Noomi Rapace doesn’t seem to offer much beyond her unpronounceable name. It’s symptomatic of the movie’s “that’ll do” attitude that they can’t even let Holmes grieve. Knockabout fun and “bro-mance” are all well and good, but not at the expense of what’s best about Holmes.
Does anyone else remember Young Sherlock Holmes, from 1985? It was Steven Spielberg’s attempt to kick-start a new franchise, with a teenage detective meeting a teenage Watson while they’re both at school. I know it sounds crap. I’ll admit parts of it were…not good (It was made during Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom phase, when he was going through a bad divorce and kinda being a bit racist). But Young Sherlock Holmes got one thing right: when Holmes’ girlfriend dies, you know he’ll always be alone. That made a big impression on me, aged seven. The loneliness of the great detective… How tragic he is. That’s the real Holmes; the Victorian gentleman who should have a Dragon Tattoo.