Thursday, December 15, 2011
Oh, glorious steampunk! Oh, glorious Victoriana! Oh, for a time when men were men (and not little boys) and industry meant hard work (and not corporate malfeasance) and optimism (and not despair) ruled the day. When the future was so bright, you hadda’ wear shades.
Life is good in the world of Guy Ritchie’s second adventure with Sherlock Holmes. It’s 1891, and cool stuff is afoot: the Underground is coming right to Baker Street. Holmes has a dinner date with Irene Adler, after a wonderful afternoon of criminal cat-and-mouse, the only sort of foreplay that gets Holmes going. There’s motor cars! The modern world is approaching, and it’s gonna be awesome.
Or perhaps not. Here at the edge of modernity, threats loom: Mechanized warfare. Politics and business and terrorism all tied up together. Paranoia driving public affairs and foreign relations.
And an ironic warning, too, of a sort: I didn’t realize it right away, because it’s subtle and only just implied, but A Game of Shadows ends on an unnerving note that suggests that the supervillains of past pulp fiction, those outrageous caricatures of impossible menace and preposterous wickedness, are today our actual rulers, the masters of the universe. The people with the power.
If you know your supervillains, you know that Holmes’ traditional archnemesis has always been Professor Moriarty. And he doesn’t really seem all that bad here, at first. Certainly not when Watson (Jude Law, who honestly has never had so much fun on film as in this role) returns to 221B Baker Street to collect Holmes (Robert Downey Jr., ditto, in probably the role he was born to play) for the former’s stag night, and discovers that his former partner in solving crime has descended into a sort of Beautiful Mind madness, seeing conspiracies and connections everywhere in the Western world, across Europe and into America, all connected by some manner of machination to respected university lecturer James Moriarty (Jared Harris), who writes books on the motions of asteroids, for pity’s sake.
But of course Moriarty is indeed up to something terribly naughty and Holmes will stop him. Even if that means he has to drag Watson actually away from his own honeymoon in order to do so.
Oh, but it’s not about Holmes being a mean ol’ meanie who can’t bear to lose his friend to marriage. Seriously: not at all. The most fun of A Game Shadows – written by Michele Mulroney and Kieran Mulroney, who were not involved in the first film – is in the wonderfully realized relationship between Holmes and Watson, which rejects all clichéd terms such as bromance and homoerotic. Because it’s not about manchildren clinging to each other out of fear of women and adult life – which are the sorts of stories the bromance shingle is typically hung on – and it’s certainly not about sublimated sexual attraction, either. It’s not even a matter of their respective female love partners getting in the way – though Kelly Reilly as Watson’s Mary is smart and resourceful on her own, and Rachel McAdams’ Irene Adler is a complicated woman with her own story. It’s almost as if the film goes out of its way to push Holmes and Watson toward an “oh just do it already moment” and just can’t make it happen: I’m thinking of the hilarious scene in which they wrestle angrily over Holmes’ interruption of Watson’s marital bliss – Holmes is even half naked, half out of his drag disguise – and even me with my dirty mind couldn’t see anything other than two guys majorly pissed off at each other.
In another scene, the boys, scoping out bad guys at a fancy diplomatic ball, waltz with each other, the better to surveil the crowd, and no one blinks an eye.
Arthur Conan Doyle may never have written such a scene. I love it anyway. There are other things Conan Doyle might not recognize, but might appreciate anyway: Noomi Rapace’s kick-ass gypsy, key to unraveling Moriarty’s plan and Stephen Fry’s Mycroft Holmes, who has some very immodest habits.
I’ll say this: there are twists from the original stories, and some of them twist in unexpected ways. The fun of finding new things to say about an old story is very much afoot here.
SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS (3) • Directed by Guy Ritchie • Starring Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace •Rated PG-13 • 129 min • At Century Cinemas Del Monte, Maya Cinemas, Northridge Cinemas, Lighthouse Cinemas.