It was with ‘not a little’ anticipation that I went, ‘quite readily’, to see the new Sherlock Holmes film at the cinema this evening. I wanted to know if ‘the game’s still afoot’, or if the game is lame. The previews had been more than a little alluring, the female characters quite fetching (indeed you saw them fetching all sorts of things), and Watson and Holmes were back on a case that involved Moriarty, ‘the Napoleon of crime’, or in this case the bin Laden of arms dealers. The great danger of any such film that tries to be both fresh and familiar at the same time is that it does both by halves and neither very well. In this case it is by dint of character and two fine actors Mssr. Downey Jr. and Law that none of the familiar seems trite or stale. But as for the ‘fresh’ elements (since this series, unlike the BBC TV series, is not really a reboot of previous Conan Doyle stories) some of them work, and some do not. For example, adding European gypsies to the mix is a nice touch, but they get gipped when it comes to dialogue and meaningful roles in the film. Even Noomi Rapace is not well served with interesting dialogue. Her character deserved more development. At least we get more of the splendid brother Mycroft in this episode.
At its heart, this film is not a who dunnit (we know its Moriarty from the outset), nor is it a how dunnit (while we have glimmerings of Sherlock’s solving skills and deduction— indeed we are given slow motion images of how he sees things and deduces from them), it is an action flick. And for 2 hours and nine minutes, with very little resbit or respite at all, we see Sherlock and John running, and shooting, and running, and hanging from trains, and running. Did I mention running. While some of the cinematic slow motion elements while they are escaping from the bad guys are impressive looking they do not really add much to the film on the whole. It’s not a good sign when the only slowing down in the film that happens is the slowing down of fast running.Nevertheless, Downey Jr. and Law are a pleasure to watch together and there repartee is still well honed in this film. Watson is a ‘brick’, loyal to a fault even if furious at Holmes from time to time and there really is brotherly affection between them, but alas, they hardly even have time for Watson’s wedding to lovely Mary so hellbent are they on solving Sherlock’s greatest case.
Perhaps the best scene in the whole film is when Holmes throws the newly wed wife off the train and into the drink in order to save her life. Needless to say, the new husband was not best pleased…until later when he discovered why. The problem with a genius who is two steps ahead of the next quickest person around is that one can get brained by the very person who will later be thanking you profusely when they realize what you actually did.
The ending at Reichenbach Falls was a little too predictable for me, as was the outwitting of Moriarty as well, but as a Christmas action flick, this is a better film than Mission Impossible, to be sure. Whether it is actually better than the first Downey=Holmes escapade is doubtful.
This film does not suffer from being dull, but at times it is too frenetic and one is unable to process quickly enough what just happened. Still, one does not tire of seeing Victorian attire or hearing its diction and watching its customs. Lest we think it was a gentler and less violent age, this film dissuades us quickly from any such thoughts. As Moriarty rightly says, ‘man is born for conflict’ as the sparks fly up. The shadows are not just the reflex of the sun, they are the expressions of the dark hearts, the real evil which lurks amongst us. Yet still a light shines in the darkness, and it is not merely the glow of Holmes well lit pipe.