Monday, May 13, 2013

"Sherlock Holmes" (2009) and "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" (2011) -- Initial Thoughts

Last week, I doubled the number of Robert Downey, Jr. movies I have seen, going from four to eight.  I'm going to review both of his outings as Sherlock Holmes here so I can compare them a bit, as I liked one of them better than the other.

I remember when I saw the previews for Sherlock Holmes in 2009, that there was a moment where Watson (Jude Law) said to Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.), "Does your depravity know no bounds?"  And that moment made me say, "I am never going to watch this movie!"  Because the Sherlock Holmes created by A. Conan Doyle is the complete opposite of depraved.  Though he would doubtless deny it, Sherlock Holmes is the very model of a Victorian gentleman, morally upright and unswerving in his pursuit of justice.  So I refused to see this movie.  My dear friend DKoren agreed.  But then, last year, she accidentally saw part of the second movie on a plane, without sound, and found RDJ so compelling that she had to watch the real movies.  And she discovered something wonderful.

No depravity.

When Watson asks Holmes if his depravity knows no bounds, they are discussing doilies.  Yes.  Doilies.  And patterned tablecloths and china figurines and all the womanly fripperies that Holmes is convinced will overwhelm Watson as soon as he gets married.  Watson is being sarcastic and annoyed, and there's no depravity involved.  Once I'd been assured of this fact, I agreed to watch these movies with my friend when she visited.  And I enjoyed them!  I didn't love them, but I enjoyed them.  Here's a bit about each, and I'll get into plot points, character deaths, etc, so it's going to be pretty spoily.  Don't read beyond this if you haven't seen these yet, but want to!

Sherlock Holmes (2009) involves a cult that claims it will use magic to take over the British government.  It reminded me more of Buffy the Vampire Slayer than Doyle's stories in many ways, what with all the magic and a bad guy returning vampire-like from the grave.  Like Buffy and the Scoobies, Holmes and Watson follow clues and battle seemingly invincible adversaries and sniff ingredients to figure out what potions their enemies have been mixing up.

Unlike in most Buffy eps, however, it turns out that the monsters and magic were all a sham, and there are logical, human reasons behind all the seemingly magical occurrences.  Also, unlike Buffy and Doyle's stories, clues are withheld from the audience.  In the stories, Watson sees what Holmes sees, and records all the data for the readers, who can follow the clues and figure out the case if they're very clever.  This movie felt more like an Agatha Christie mystery, where several key bits of information get withheld from the readers just so the detective looks really brilliant when we get to the reveal.  Never a good plan, folks.

I liked Sherlock Holmes:  A Game of Shadows (2011) much better.  It pits Holmes against Professor Moriarty, his archnemesis from the original stories, who "killed" Holmes in the Doyle story "The Final Problem."  Now, I'm not a huge fan of stories involving Moriarty for the simple reason that he's overused.  I've read quite a lot of non-canonical Sherlock Holmes stories, and it seems like Moriarty pops up in a third of them.  It gets old!  Like having the Joker in every third Batman story, or Lex Luthor in every third Superman story.  Plus, Moriarty is so often over-written (or over-acted) and just... I get annoyed, okay?  But this Moriarty (Jared Harris) is subtle and crafty and shifty and oh-so-pleased with himself.  Creepy, in other words, but a worthy adversary for Holmes.  The movie as a whole was more of a chase than a mystery.  No withheld evidence, no red herrings.

Also, I absolutely loved this movie's portrayal of Mycroft Holmes (Stephen Fry).  He's fat and jovial and so obviously smarter than he wants you to think.  Loved, loved, loved this Mycroft.  Plus, he called Holmes "Sherley," which cracked me up no end.

Plus, they killed off Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) at the beginning, and I reeeeeally didn't like this Irene Adler -- she was too pert and too dumb.  Without her in the way, the rest of the movie was great!

In both films, I loved the portrayal of Watson by Jude Law particularly well -- he's all the things Watson should be:  loyal and brave and intelligent and somewhat exasperated by Holmes on occasion.  Plus, he's quite funny.  But... when has Jude Law ever turned in a bad performance?

I also dug Robert Downey, Jr. as Sherlock Holmes.  He has that almost-hidden sorrow, the pain lurking in his eyes that hints at past darkness... he's a bit broody, really.  Catnip for Hamlette, in other words.

I loved that Holmes' disguises are awful.  Dreadful.  Transparent.  But they buy him extra time when he needs it, which is all they really need to do.  It's a sweet twist since, in the stories, Watson is always calling Holmes' disguises undetectable and so on.

Things I didn't care for, other than the ones I've mentioned already?  The wonky film editing.  I liked it for the glimpse-inside-Holmes' brain parts, but not the other times it's used.  Got really old and annoying really fast.  And Mrs. Hudson (Geraldine James) was too snarky, not kind enough.

As for costumes... loved them!  Especially since both Holmes and Watson spent considerable time in suspenders.  I have this thing for guys in suspenders.  Strange but true.  Yummy.

This is a long post already, so not going into anything about costumes other than that.  Sorry!  There are pics available all over online if you're interested in seeing more.  (Oh, but Irene Adler does have the biggest bustles I've seen in... maybe forever.  Freakishly shelf-like, really.)

Is this movie family-friendly?  Um, not really.  A little bad language, some innuendo, lots of violence.


  1. I love Jude Law as Watson! But I love Martin Freeman even better. If you haven't seen the BBC series "Sherlock" it's simply a must! I'm not crazy about Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes. Benedict Cumberbatch is the best Sherlock! The Sherlock TV series is set in modern London, which I though was really stupid at first, but I like it now. Even though they use cell phones and other modern gadgets, it feels more authentic to Sherlock than the movies, in my opinion.

    1. I've seen "A Study in Pink," and I really want to watch the rest -- my library has seasons 1 and 2. Just haven't gotten to them yet. I have my own ideas about the best Sherlock portrayal, but I think everyone has their own favorite aspect of the character, and different actors bring out different aspects more.

  2. I'm glad you got around to watching these, and had a change of heart for Robert Downey Jr.! :D

    1. Yeah, me too! I have a few more of his movies on my to-watch list now.

  3. Just like you I thought that GoS was a huge improvement upon the first film. I really didn't like the first film at all and I have so many issues with it. I hated what they did to Irene Adler by making her Sherlock Holmes's ex-girlfriend *frowny face* It's not at all accurate to 'A Scandal in Bohemia' and like many fans I firmly believe that SH is asexual. Also he's a bit of an icon to the asexual community so I think it's a real shame when adaptations feel the need to make him straight. And I thought that there was far too much action in the film. I get the impression that they were trying to show more of the active, energetic SH that you read about in the Conan Doyle stories but they really overdid it. The film was like "We give you Action Holmes! Now with Karate Chop move!" And I found RDJ's SH too bumbling. I actually thought that Watson came across as the more capable and intelligent of the two the majority of the time and that really bothered me. BUT I did like the opening 15-20 minutes of the film and I really enjoyed Jude Law's Watson.

    Much to my surprise I really did enjoy GoS. It doesn't hold a candle to the BBC series, which I'm a massive fan of, but I still thought that it was a huge improvement. I enjoyed the plot far more and I thought RDJ gave a better performance. He doesn't have the emotional depth of Benedict Cumberbatch's SH but he still got some nice, emotional moments I thought. And I really liked Stephen Fry, Jared Harris and the guy who played Sebastian Moran (I can't remember the actor's name). And I loved that they killed off Irene in the film! Here's hoping that they don't find a way to bring her back from the dead in the next one! :D

    1. Yeah, I really disliked Irene too, though it's not the first time I've encountered the idea that she and Holmes got together at some point. I didn't realize that Holmes is an icon for asexuals, though that does make sense. I've always seen him more as just too busy to put in the work a relationship requires and too moral to visit ladies of ill repute.

      I do like the BBC series better, though I've only seen season 1.

    2. I am crazily in love with the BBC series! Season 2 is fantastic! I loved their take on The Hound of the Baskervilles. And their episode on The Final Problem... wow! :D

      To be honest I wasn't thrilled with what they did to Irene's character and her relationship with SH in A Scandal in Belgravia. Having said that her portrayal in these films is by far the worst offender, and I still really enjoyed that episode.

    3. I'm very much looking forward to seeing season 2! I'm hoping to get to it next month -- I'll be reviewing it here, episode by episode like I did for season 1 :-)

  4. Interesting how differently people think about these two films! I actually liked the first film more than the second, but was pretty much indifferent to them overall – I'm going to review them soonish. I watched the first film before I had read any of Doyle's works so I had very little expectations about what the character was "supposed" to be like, but nonetheless it didn't quite work for me. I do share your love of suspenders though :) I wish they had worn more top hats, that's another pet obsession that I have!

    1. Mmmmm, suspenders :-) And top hats are cool too! I also have a great fondness for tall boots. Put a guy in tall boots and I'll perk right up.

      What did you like better about the first one?

    2. I finished my blog post on this subject, I think that might answer your question :D


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