Thursday, December 22, 2011

"You know my methods. Apply them"

"'It has been a duel between you and me, Mr. Holmes. You hope to place me in the dock. I tell you that I will never stand in the dock. You hope to beat me. I tell you that you will never beat me. If you are clever enough to bring destruction upon me, rest assured that I shall do as much to you.'

'You have paid me several compliments, Mr. Moriarty,' said I. 'Let me pay you one in return when I say that if I were assured of the former eventuality I would, in the interests of the public, cheerfully accept the latter.'"

"The Final Problem"

It had been years since I last went to the movie theaters here, but I guess it's normal to play with your cellphone during the movie, rest your feet against the seat in front of you and leave your garbage at your seat / on the floor / throw popcorn on the floor? Hmmm.....

As a friend worded so deftly, it's a Sherlockian winter. New Year will bring us the long-awaited second season of BBC's Sherlock, but our Victorian master-detective also makes an appearance at the theaters just in time for Christmas. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is the sequel to 2009's Sherlock Holmes starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law and while the first movie was not without its flaws, it was certainly an entertaining action movie with an original take on the characters (though opinions on whether that was good or not differ widely). Downey Jr. played himself, and while I liked the basic concept of his Holmes, he at times felt too eccentric. I loved Law's Watson though and the bickering between the two was really one of the better points of the movie. At any rate, I filed it under the 'it was entertaining enough' files in my head, but I had somehow missed that the sequel (with Moriarty!) was to be released this winter (luckily a friend told me). So with 'it's probably entertaining enough' expectations, I went to the theater. I was also geeky enough to read The Final Problem on my way to the theater and afterwards listened to BBC Radio's audio adaption of it on my way back from the movie.

The story of the movie is very loosy based on The Final Problem, chronicling the battle of Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty. Having deduced the existence of the Napoleon of Crime and identified him with Moriarty, Holmes tries to find the evidence to get him hanged, but you'd hardly be a Napeleon of Crime if you'd just wait for Holmes to accomplish his task. As his organisation (led by Colonel Sebastian Moran), try to eliminate Holmes (and Watson and his wife, because Now It's Personal makes the stakes seem even higher), the dynamic duo discover the diabolical deviations of the dastardly....dangerous... man.


My 'it's probably entertaining enough' expectations changed to 'this is quite horrible' thoughts right after the movie started. Because it was quite horrible. Gone was the charm of the first movie and in return we got a chaotic mess of bits and pieces of plot and forced humor. The first part was to introduce some characters like Mycroft (who only got a very short introduction by the way), to establish that It's Personal and to plant some clues for later parts of the movie, but the way this was done was just awful.

And then Holmes and Watson get on a train and everything becomes awesome.

Once the story gets past the first one-third, pacing, structuring, the humor, the action, everything becomes better (except for an abudance of explosions past the half-way point) and becomes one thrilling ride all the way to a very impressive interpretation of the Reichenbach Falls incident. The ride towards the end is really entertaining and that might be because this movie is at its core quite quite different from the first movie. The first movie was essentially a classic detective plot, with the ressurected Lord Blackwood and the serial murders being the main mystery for Holmes to solve. In A Game of Shadows, it's more about the cat-and-mouse game between Holmes and Moriarty, resulting in several skirmishes between the two parties spread across the movie. If the first movie was about one big mystery, then its sequel is about several mysteries that solved one after another, but these mysteries are definitely linked. The hints for these mysteries are done better than in the first movie, in the sense that we actually get a good look at them, but the way these hints are conveyed to the viewer are almost painfully obvious. Oh, there we have a full close-up shot of a seemingly unimportant item for more than a second. Subtle, it is not. In fact, one hint for the very last surprise of the movie is inserted in the movie so clumsily, that it feels like an after-thought.

Like I said, the interpretation of the last confrontation between Holmes and Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls is pretty impressive and definitely my favorite part of the movie. It is a scene that does justice to the original story, without losing the particular, more action-oriented flavor of this movie series. I'd even go as far as to say that this might be my favorite Holmes - Moriarty, or even more broadly, master-detetive vs. master-criminal confrontation scene ever. It also helps that Harris' Moriarty is awesome.

For the viewer familiar with Holmes, there were quite a lot of little nods to the canon. Some lines are straight quotations, while the inclusion of Colonel Sebastion Moran as a sniper-Dragon to Moriarty in this story is a very logical choice. But there are also less obvious nods, Holmes' final trump for example builds heavily on a little reference in The Final Problem and a story-device used in another Holmes story. The movie also actually wonderfully tries to mess with your mind halfway through the movie by recreating a certain scene from The Final Problem. I don't think most viewers would have picked up on it, but it certainly had me doubting for a second!

Oh, and Hans Zimmer's soundtrack is once again great.

All in all, I had quite some fun with this movie. The beginning is bad, but when the plot hits its stride, it's really entertaining. It does not differ greatly from the formula set in the first movie, so it's safe to say that anyone who liked the first movie is sure to like A Game of Shadows.


  1. I have learned by now not to get my hopes up, too much, where positive Sherlock Holmes reviews from reputable mystery fans are concerned.

    This one will probably do as much for me as the previous movie, which wasn't very much at all. I tried. I really, really tried. But I find myself unable to enjoy or care about this recent splurge of movies and series – and dread fills me when I think what kind of hatchet job they will do on Perry Mason and Lew Archer.

    These movies just aren't made for me.

    Luckily, a new season of Hustle will kick-off on the first Friday of the new year. As someone who has Arsene Lupin among his favorite fictional characters, you should definitely give this series a shot!

    By the way, I haven't read your latest translation yet, but will make an attempt at doing so before Christmas.

  2. I can't force you to like the new Holmes productions (which aren't without their share of flaws, but I find the overall products entertaining), bu I hope you'll like the translation ;) It's actually a locked room mystery!