Monday, 15 October 2012


“How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?” – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Hollywood must be full of the corpses of film sequels, movies that die after a short life in the movie theatres. Unfortunately, these corpses come alive briefly, appearing like zombies on our TV screens and in video shops. We watched such a sequel at the weekend, on blu-ray disc. Unfortunately neither the high tech visual effects, the CGI and the sumptuous sets, nor the high definition of the blu-ray, failed to save this lemon of a movie…

It was Guy Ritchie’s 2011 “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows”, starring Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law and Jared Harris. This was the much-anticipated sequel to the 2009 “Sherlock Holmes” by the same director. Having seen the first movie and having enjoyed it quite a lot, I must admit I had a little trepidation when this sequel came out. I was wary of Hollywood’s “curse of the sequel”, but nevertheless began watching this movie with an open and receptive mind. I was eagerly awaiting the action to continue from the last scene, which promised much in terms of a sequel, but disappointingly there was no reference in the sequel to this. The sequel could in fact stand alone as a completely independent movie.

Both Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law attempt to recreate their success with their characters in the first film, but it is only Jude Law as the redoubtable Dr Watson who manages to carry his role off quite well. Downey’s Sherlock in this movie is a caricature and unfortunately instead of a detective we were reminded of a martial artist, or a gangster, or a cheap imitation of Inspector Clouseau with his hapless disguises. Jared Harris as the evil Moriarty failed to impress on all counts. He took the weak plot and poor characterisation and made Moriarty into a boring non-event who failed to chill as the arch-villain that he supposedly was. Noomi Rapace playing a gypsy fortune teller with anarchist connections is at the most irrelevant and at best an ineffectual diversion from the thin plot. The surprise was Stephen Fry cast as Holmes’ brother, Mycroft. He had a few scenes where he caused us to smile slightly, but then again his relevance to the plot was questionable. In particular the scene of him naked in front of Watson’s fiancée was neither funny nor relevant and could be edited out quite easily.

The plot takes place during the political crisis of the late 19th century Europe where Germany is at odds with France, numerous anarchists and terrorists of minor states and varied affiliations set off bombs and where the social conditions are marked by volatility and uncertainty. In this milieu, Holmes and Watson track an anarchist and desperately try to foil Moriarty’s plans for world domination. The plot is very thin, far removed from the classic London setting of Holmes stories, and serves as an excuse for numerous (and most often unnecessary) violent fight sequences, shoot-outs and explosions. Instead of a cerebral, cool, logical problem solver Holmes is presented as an action hero, who aspires to be a comedian and a two-bit actor (given his penchant for corny disguises). Watson is more dignified and through half the movie looks quite resigned to Holmes’ odd and petulant behaviour and longs to be far away in Brighton where he can spend time with his bride and enjoy their honeymoon.

The film used to excess a number of (now) hackneyed devices such as slow and sped-up motion in association with the fight sequences and Holmes’ deductive faculties are presented as an almost supernatural precognition of a ESP variety, which doesn’t sit well with poor Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation. This is very much a movie for the young and less demanding movie goer who wouldn’t know the books the characters are derived from even if they fell on their head from a great height. The film in fact highlights a curious modern convention: “Let’s take a well-known classic set of stories and characters and let’s tamper the living daylights out of them until nobody can recognise them any more because all semblance to the original has been lost.”

I fail to see why the writers of this movie had to resort to calling the lead character “Sherlock Holmes” when their protagonist could be called “Fred Blogs, Victorian action hero”. Just doesn't have the same ring to it, somehow, I guess. It is a curious form of literary/artistic parasitism where a dead author’s creation can be put through the story mill and what emerges is a mélange of curious glop that appeals to the tastes of an audience reared on action and violence and car chases and explosions and superhuman abilities and non-stop visual effects and CGI. Give me an old-fashioned cerebral Holmes any time, where wit and cleverness, understated humour, limited (or suggested) violence necessary to the action and a plot that has many ingenious twists and turns entertains on a higher level.

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