Sherlock Shmerlock

I saw Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows some time ago, but have only now deciphered my notes. Hence this late report.

I like Guy Ritchie. I do! And I like Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law. And I like the Arthur Conan Doyle stories. And I like Ritchie’s first Sherlock Holmes movie. But when it comes to the newest entry, not so much.


Just not feeling it.

Yes, we still get a lovingly detailed look at Victorian London—the era that invented steampunk. And yes, Holmes is still at his devilishly deductive best. But though I enjoyed SH:GoS, this one is played for too many laughs. The first had its share of comic moments and one-liners, but here the campy comedy is front-and-center. Most of the comedy comes from the by-play between Holmes and Watson, who seem at times like the Victorian era’s answer to SNL’s “ambiguously gay duo.”

In fact, the comedy is made so central to the movie that the plot takes a long time to get moving. It feels as though the first half of the movie is given over to the bickering between Holmes and Watson, bickering that lasts so long that I started to think I was watching a dream sequence from The Odd Couple.

During the first half of the movie, our villain spends a lot of time taking potshots at Holmes and Watson, but without any indication of what’s at stake. Since Holmes hasn’t yet pieced together the clues that indicate who is behind a number of crimes, why antagonize the sleuth by shooting at him and trying to blow him up? Professional pride, I guess. He wants to be known for the crimes he commits.

When the game  finally goes afoot, I have to say they’ve given Holmes his best adversary so far, the inimitable Professor Moriarity, apparently the only human in Victorian England (besides older brother Mycroft) who’s at least as smart as Holmes himself.

So we still have Holmes, of course, in all his scruffy and manic glory. And yes, the disapproving and admiring Dr. Watson is here. And Stephen Fry plays a wonderfully arch Mycroft Holmes. But mostly what we get this time out are personalities on parade, not characters revealed through action.

At this point in Hollywood history, action movies have devolved to the point where they’re the physical equivalent of situation comedies: set-up, joke, set-up, joke. Only it’s set-up, action-sequence, etc., leaving character more or less completely out of the equation. Anyone can pull a trigger, plunge a knife, or throw a punch. OK, I admit the action sequences here are clever, but even at this level, they lack the Rube Goldberg quality that made the earlier movie so delightful.

And sadly, the women are wasted in this movie. Sure, the Sherlock Holmes stories are the ultimate bromance, but why introduce female characters at all if you’re only going to chuck them aside at the earliest opportunity? Even the talented Noomi Rapace—so haunting in the Swedish Girl with the Dragon Tattoo that I’m not sure I want to see the Hollywood remake—even she spends most of her screen time, it seems, running through woods or gazing moodily at our heroes.

Guy Ritchie tones down his patented quick cuts and alternating high-speed and slo-mo action shots so that this outing comes across less like a Guy Ritchie film than like something by David Fincher’s amped-up younger brother. It’s meant to please a broader audience, to emulate the appeal, I think, of Pie-rats of the Caribbean, which has now devolved into a festival of mugging and makeup. Guy, step back from the edge. Please!

Maybe the franchise is already losing its steampunk for me. Or maybe I’m just worried about Robert Downey’s health. How can the man play the main characters in two superhero franchises? And now I see he’s playing Iron Man in The Avengers, too. I mean, how is it physically possible? Man was not meant to be hoisted around on so many wires or to stare at so much green-screen or to be backlit by so many digital explosions!

Did I enjoy SH:GoS? Yes. But it didn’t stay with me the way the first one did. That may in part be because, between the first and second, I’ve had the pleasure of watching the BBC’s excellent Sherlock series, which puts Holmes and Watson in modern times. Here, everything is up for grabs, with surprises at every turn. The characters (played with convincing realism by Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman) don’t bicker so much as banter. What’s the difference? Banter is what you get in The Thin Man. Bickering is what you get in Keeping up with the Kardashians.


Author: Brent Spencer

I'm a writer of fiction, creative non-fiction, and screenplays. My most recent book, a memoir, is Rattlesnake Daddy: A Son's Search for His Father. I live on an acreage in eastern Nebraska and teach creative writing at Creighton University. You can find out more about me and at (Photo credit: Miriam Berkley)

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