Action/Mystery, 129 Minutes, 2011
Being a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes I was incredibly worried about the first film but happily surprised by the result. While it added an action-movie physicality to the characters it lost none of the cleverness and brains-over-brawn mentality that makes the character so beloved by skeptics and mystery lovers everywhere (who, if I may speak for the group, hate nothing more than a simplistic “it’s magic” answer to a mystery). The movies have happily stayed grounded in reality exactly where they belong.
I was conflicted about this installment however. As I finished watching it I had that confused feeling that told me that couldn’t be sure if I actually liked it or not. This is usually followed by some introspective thinking resulting either in my completely hating or completely loving it. While I’ve still got some qualms I’m definitely leaning to the latter.
The biggest issue overall is the pacing. This is an incredibly deliberate film; things move slowly. In fact the centerpiece of the film – a massive battle in the forest with artillery barrages, hand-to-hand combat and explosions galore – is downright glacial. The director leverages high-dynamic range, over-saturation and copious detours into slow motion to bring the smallest details of the scene into stark relief. It was a significant gamble to essentially eliminate the kinetic energy from an action scene but upon reflection I do believe it paid off.
This is also a much less jovial film than the first. A wholly unexpected death sets a much darker tone very early in the film and the mood is rarely lightened. This is pressed home even more so than intended as several sequences clearly designed to be humorous simply fall flat (a naked Stephen Fry, I agree, should be hilarious but just… isn’t). Holmes takes on an even more disturbed, obsessive bent than in the first film which further depresses the proceedings.
Of course Robert Downy Jr. is still a masterful casting choice as Holmes and I’ve come to regard Jude Law very warmly in the role of Watson. Jared Harris seems less comfortable as criminal mastermind James Moriarty but pulls it off. The contest between the two geniuses being mostly mental the film has a deeply cerebral core that takes some adjustment (especially after the more traditional action fare that populated the first movie). Unfortunately the plot itself is quite a bit less interesting than the characters living it. Featuring a rather pedestrian conspiracy by our criminal genius and a few rather annoying loose ends I found it less than satisfying.
Overall this is a still movie well worth seeing. It’s smart, beautifully acted and staged and what the story lacks in the broad strokes it makes up in the fine detail. I’m also ashamed to say that I actually quite enjoyed the little twist ending (while still maintaining that twist endings should be avoided at all costs).