Sunday, January 1, 2012

Two Recent Movies: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol

Mission: Impossible--Ghost Protocol

The plot is ridiculously impossible, the character development is nonexistent, the attempts at emotional connection are so clunky you can hear the impact, and the way everything is related back to the third film is annoyingly convoluted (if ultimately rather clever and satisfying), and yet, for all that, it’s one of the most purely enjoyable popcorn flicks of the year.  Even a nonentity villain and a weaker third-act can’t derail the whole thing. (As for the cast: Renner and Pegg are good, Cruise is Cruise, Paula Patton was lousy, Josh Holloway should have been given a real part.)  The biggest reason for this success is the excellently staged action setpieces, which exhibit the gratifying, all-too rare quality of actual bodies being flung about in actual space, meaning that despite their lunacy the sequences retain a remarkable visceral impact, especially (1)Cruise’s leap from the hospital, (2) his scrabbling up the side of the Burj Khalifa, and (3) his Pixar-esque pinballing fight with the villain in a giant  mechanical carpark.  And of course it’s filled with ridiculously awesome gadgets and that staple of modern action movies, men running/falling/fighting in really, really nice suits.  It reminded me of what Bond movies used to be in the ‘60s.  Count me in for whatever Brad Bird wants to do next.
Rating: 7/10 stars.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Despite the general awfulness of the trailers and posters, this sequel to 2009’s steampunk-actioner Sherlock Holmes is remarkably entertaining and generally improves on the original in almost every way.  It benefits enormously from the addition of Jared Harris as Holmes’ archenemy Professor James Moriarty, a criminal mastermind who probably stands as the first super-villain in fiction, and if I say that the climax of the film takes place at Reichenbach next to a waterfall, then the various Holmes fans out there should be able to figure out where this story is going pretty easily.  In other words, despite the fact that the film is filled with massive explosions every two minutes and moves at an absolutely frenetic pace uncharacteristic of the literary Holmes’ careful deductive skills, this film is far more dependent on Doyle’s original stories than the previous one (including allusions to several other stories and a very brief cameo by the Baker Street Irregulars), and all the better for it.  
Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law again play Holmes and Watson as the original bromance couple, this time upping the ante with several innuendos that include rolling around in sexual positions on the floor of a train and even waltzing together at a diplomatic ball.  Director Guy Ritchie certainly over-does things at times, tossing in random scenes (like a bonfire dance in a gypsy camp) that are completely extraneous to the rest of the plot, and including a couple of overlong action pieces (especially a horrible chase through a snowy forrest peppered by artillery shells) that rely to an ungodly degree on speed-ramping slow-motion as if that would automatically make the sequences cool and exciting.  Nevertheless, I was impressed by how much the movie actually trusts the audience to piece clues together, cycling through montages of items that added up into solutions for Holmes’ brilliant mind with little to no voiceover to explain how they all fit together.  It’s a surprisingly intelligent device for a movie that seems so in love with spectacle, and this willingness to be smarter than it needs to be extends to Holmes’ scenes with Moriarty, where the conversations are laced with subtle jabs, brilliant insights, and cunning stratagems.  The  climax, notably, leaves explosions behind and focuses instead on the two geniuses literally playing chess with each other, a life-and-death game that concludes the only way it ever could.  I’d say this is a worthy addition to the Sherlock-ian film canon.
Rating: 7/10 stars.


  1. You hit the nail on the head with MI4. I was shocked by just how much I enjoyed it. And it was suspensful, too, because of the realistic nature of the stunts. What they did in Dubai was amazing, and the carpark thing at the end was just icing on the cake. Brad Bird has some flair - I hope he continues in this line with fun, reality-based, non CGI-laden action full of old-fashioned stunts.

    Glad to hear Sherlock improves on the original, though I still have no desire to see it. I hated the original THAT much. Will probably eventually catch in on Netflix by accident.

  2. Yeah, there seem to be a lot of bloggers who really hated the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes. I can't say I completely blame them, since they do go over the top in annoying ways, but I still mostly enjoyed the first one and quite liked this. One thing the first film does do better than the second is the musical score--the first score was such a terrific, rollicking good time it just about made the movie on its own. The second score was pretty much a reprise of the first, with a few extra touches that were completely unmemorable.

    Of these two, I would definitely say MI:4 was better, though not necessarily more intelligent--more honestly dumb and fun, let us say.

  3. Nice review of the movie. Downey Jr is a very interesting Holmes.

    I liked the first movie and need to check this one out.


    1. Thanks! If you liked the first one, I don't think you'll be disappointed here, although like I said, it's not a perfect film.