This weekend I went to watch the new Sherlock Holmes movie called Sherlock Holmes: The game of shadows, or possibly A game of shadows or even A shadowy game. I’m not entirely sure; either way neither shadows nor games have anything to do with the movie so it doesn’t really matter.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
Going into the movie I knew that I had to forget everything I knew from the Sherlock Holmes books by Arthur Conan Doyle, which are pretty awesome. I knew this because (1) any film directed by Guy Ritchie necessarily involves at least one scene in which a group of gypsies gather in a circle to watch/encourage two men to fight bare-fisted and (2) I’ve seen the first movie.
Mid-way through the film (after the predicted fist-fight) it occurred to me that the reason the plot line seems so completely ridiculous is that it follows a long tradition of meaningless stories, a.k.a the James Bond films of the 1990’s.
Long before Daniel Craig relaunched the James Bond franchise there were a host of really, really crappy James Bond films, usually starring Pierce Brosnan. These included GoldenEye, The world is not enough, Die another day, Tomorrow never dies and several more titles the words of which could only have been taken from a recently completed game of Scrabble (much like the title of this movie).
The similarities between these Bond movies and Guy Ritchie’s sequel are so striking that you leave the theatre convinced you have been cheated by the absence of a 7-minute Tina Turner song or that bit where Bond shoots the camera.
Note the following:
(1) Secret agent, not detective: In this movie Sherlock Holmes does not display brilliant detective skills or awe-inspiring deductive logic. Instead, his genius appears limited to having endless fantasies about how a fight might play itself (whether or not it does play itself out at all) or how to most effectively torture animals. Without his traditional skills Holmes is just a good fighter who’s quick on his feet – just like James Bond.
(2) Mad, megalomaniacal villain plots to cause a world war: In the books Professor Moriarty is a subtle and brilliant villain, but this movie paints him as a typical Bond villain. Much like the elusive SPECTRE organisation in the Bond films, this Moriarty has his fingers in every pie, trying to assassinate every political leader or blow up every important building. What does he want? Predictably, he has no personal political sentiments but merely wants to sell arms and become immensely rich and powerful.
Far from playing “games” with Holmes (apart from some clichéd references to chess) Moriarty just runs riot and involves assassins, bomb makers, the German army and plastic surgeons, while Holmes travels the world to stop him (sound familiar?). The only surprise is that the villain doesn’t stroke a cat or demand sharks with frikkin lazer beams attached (presumably omitted because Holmes would no doubt inject the animals with some kind of paralysing toxin).
(3) Beautiful woman has brother who “works with the enemy”: In all Bond films the hot chick has some unlikely connection to the insane eruption of mass murder that is about to occur, and it’s usually having a misunderstood brother who is involved with the wrong people. Queue The girl with the dragon tattoo whose character in the Stieg Larson movies would’ve cut off Holmes’ balls and put them in his pipe, but in this movie runs around with a bewildered look on her face (totally Bond-esque) and only fails the stereotype by avoiding sexual intercourse with the protagonist.
However, it must be said that the writers here found a useful character to designate the role of Gypsy, and without her we wouldn’t have had such lines as “Never let a gypsy take you dancing” or “We need someone with intimate knowledge of moving between borders” (nudge nudge, wink wink).
(4) “Leave it alone, Bond”: Remember how Q gave Bond all his little gadgets that would without fail be used at some point? In this movie Holmes seems to stumble upon several objects that you might predict will be used later in the film. And by “might” I mean the only way you would fail to predict the outcome is if this was literally the first movie you had ever seen because you grew up isolated on an island in the Pacific Ocean.
For example, when Holmes “dies” and is unsurprisingly not revived by Watson (whose medical training seems to have involved watching back-to-back repeats of Baywatch), only the completely moronic could have forgotten about the magic injection that Holmes gave to Watson as a wedding present.
The fact that such a ludicrous “gift” was given, received and kept throughout the movie is a massive plot hole and we can only draw comfort from the even more ridiculous introduction of the oxygen breathing device that proves so pivotal (“Oh that? That’s my spare oxygen breathing device…” says Stephen Fry’s character. Right. Well, that requires no further explanation, does it?)
Holmes even has clothes to make him invisible… Sneaky secret agent.
(5) Please report to M: It seems it is no coincidence that Holmes’ brother Mycroft’s name starts with “M” because he plays the exact same role as Bond’s superior. Both Mycroft and M are big players in the political world, both have an eye on the bigger picture, both rank higher than the hero, both have a certain disdain for the hero and when he’s in trouble the hero sends a message to them to help. Thankfully it’s only Mycroft we are forced to see topless.
It seems obvious to me that Guy Ritchie actually wanted to make a Bond film, and that’s why he managed to sneak in the repeated use of machine guns, massive bombs, missiles and snipers. Being set in the 1800’s I’m intrigued as to which history books Mr Ritchie was working with. Whatever the case, we can be sure that… “Sherlock Holmes will return…”