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'Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows' review - A homoerotic, bullet-time cash grab

The first Sherlock Holmes film, released in 2009 (read our review), set a standard as one of the most patronizingly obvious examples of contemporary Hollywood money-grubbing. As one of Anglophila’s most transmutable literary figures, Holmes has taken many forms over many decades, so it isn’t fair for me to judge Director Guy Ritchie’s interpretation as somehow impure or blasphemous. Even so, there’s something strikingly silly about Robert Downey, Jr. in the role, especially when he spouts unnecessarily convoluted dialogue through an insufferable, pseudo-English accent. As sidekick Watson, Jude Law may not have to fake the accent, but, like Downey, he suffers from a celebrity cultivated primarily in tabloids: both men are movie-stars first, and actors second. It’s not that they can’t act, they’re simply ill-equipped to tastefully portray robust literary figures in a film that prioritizes “bullet-time” over compelling human drama.

The sequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, reunites Downey with Law, who this time must face off against Holmes’ arch-nemesis, Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris). Also reunited are Guy Ritchie and his beloved bullet-time, who prove definitively that life in Victorian-era England was full of sexiness and explosive action sequences. Like its predecessor, this is a film too shameless to mask its idiocy as anything but a cash-grab. Unfortunately, this idiocy is highly entertaining, and what began as a guilty pleasure in the first film is fast becoming a guilty Holiday tradition.

Screenwriters Kieran and Michele Mulroney have significantly widened the scope of the plot: Holmes’ investigation into a series of bombings and murders places him onto the trail of Professor Moriarty, who wants to initiate a global military conflict so that he can profit from the various munitions factories under his ownership. At the same time, Watson gets married, leaving Holmes emotionally displaced and scrambling to prove that his companionship is all a man should ever need (even going so far as to literally throw the bride off of a moving train). Stephen Fry plays Holmes’ brother, while Rachel McAdams makes an uncomfortable return as temptress Irene Adler, which lasts only several minutes before she is killed off. Fry is probably the film’s bright spot, although Jared Harris’ take on Moriarty is mesmerizing; his performance a reassuring comedown from the long-standing rumours that Brad Pitt would eventually fill the role. Noomi Rapace – who played Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – plays a gypsy who contributes almost nothing to the overall picture.

The script calls for several unusually blatant, homoerotic displays between Holmes and Watson, including, among other things, cross-dressing and bromantic ballroom dancing. As a general rule, it’s impossible to put two men together in a single shot without creating at least some sexual tension, but A Game of Shadows is so overt in its insinuations that it becomes a distraction, begging one to imagine what an honestly homosexual retelling of the Sherlock Holmes character might look like. I doubt anyone will be coming out of the closet in the third film, but the possibility is always there.

Over a decade ago, when Guy Ritchie made a name for himself with Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, few imagined he’d find himself at the helm of a Hollywood franchise worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Although Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is mindless and fun, you’re in for an entertaining 129 minutes if you can keep your expectations low going in. But I think it’s an important film to see regardless, if only to support those studio executives who take chances on less commercially-driven filmmakers like Ritchie. Rewarding the creative and the independent-minded with control over huge franchises might pay off one day, when we can walk into films of this sort expecting the world, and then walk out afterwards totally satisfied.

Rating:  (Passable)

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