It was nearly two years ago that I subjected myself to Guy Ritchie's first Sherlock Holmes film. I wasn't inclined to like the film even before setting foot in the theater, and the actual product did little to scold me for my prejudice. But sometimes the repeated exposure to an irritant can allow one to build up a resistance. Or maybe it's a question of someone (Guy Ritchie) pounding home their ideas again and again to make a hydra-headed schmoe (wunelle) kind of see the light.
Not that I'm here to extoll the virtues of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. But I can grudgingly admit that Ritchie's sequel goes some ways toward reversing the pall I felt at the first film. The first time around I felt that Ritchie was trying awfully hard to be stylish and hip and I wasn't quite sure how this furious emphasis on style added up to, or even assisted in the telling of, a worthy story. It was American mainstream culture in a nutshell: too much style, too little substance.
And yet I admitted in that review that even the substance of Sherlock Holmes in his original setting was unlikely to lure me into the theater. So even by my own admission some extra thing was needed. Whether that extra thing involves Matrix-like slo-mo effects and Holmes's little interior monolog as he pre-scripts his physics-defying fight moves is an open question. Yet here we are. And Ritchie, by revisiting the stylistic world of his first film, makes an argument that his stylistic ideas are something more than a flash in the commercial pan.
And I had to admit even with the previous film that he had done a fine job of depicting the London of 100 years ago, with however heavy a degree of poetic license. That film looked awesome. Settling into my theater seat I find it's a world I'm happy to revisit. I didn't feel much chemistry last time between Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, but they feel more worn and comfy this time around. It's all still a bit cartoon-y for me, but I admit to being entertained.
One bit of delight was the inclusion of Noomi Rapace as Sim, the gypsy woman who assists Holmes in some capacity or other. (I find, if one hasn't noticed, no purpose in expounding upon plot points for this kind of movie. It's all so formulaic that pleasure is to be found in the details and execution rather than the story, a variant of which we've been told 10,000 times.) But for the original Swedish language versions of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo films we would likely never have heard of Rapace. But she was awesome in those, and while she's given not an especially challenging part here, she certainly has more to do than her Dragon Tattoo partner Michael Nyqvist in his big-budget film debut in Mission Impossible. She has a number of lines and gets to do a good bit of physical work. It's very much a supporting role, but she's a definite asset to the film.
(She even gets her own poster!)
I'm still left wondering at how completely Ritchie and Downey have diverged from any hint of Conan Doyle's original Sherlock Holmes character. Though both are supposed to be brilliant deducers, at some point it seems silly not to just invent a new character to embody what I now think is a coherent set of characteristics in the director's and actor's minds. It's been so long since I read any Sherlock Holmes that maybe I'm missing how much these two conceptions--book and film--have in common; but I tend to think that Robert Downey's Holmes is so much a creation for 21st-Century audiences that it's a new substance entirely.
But no matter. The story is told with plenty of humor, and the whole motley cast goes from one cliff-hanging moment to the next, none of it sullied by mundane reality. I found this a mite too trying in Brad Bird's recent Mission Impossible 4, but for whatever reason I'm willing to give Guy Ritchie a pass.
It's a broad entertainment intended for a broad, American audience and I suspect most people will be delighted with it.