Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
One of the most insufferable things about Sherlock Holmes is Sherlock Holmes himself, and then, the environment fostered by Sherlock Holmes fans. It’s a fandom that orbits around a character who was designed to be an insufferable douche – seriously – and there’s a body of people who deeply love this character and think he’s cool. When this gets interpreted sometimes as a neuroatypicality and you may find that wonderful and fostering, the fact is there are plenty of neuroatypical people who are very smart and observant and also manage to not be total assholes to their friends.
(also, Sherlock-as-Autistic-Savant contributes to the idea that autistic mannerisms are tolerable insomuch as they can be transactionally merited, which suuucks)
I liked the first Downey Holmes movie, which I liked in part because it was very choppy. It had to try and keep a lot of pieces in motion, and while it didn’t do a great job of it, which meant it sort of felt like a juddery cart-ride through its story. Bouncing from plot point to plot point, nothing had quite the same amount of time to hang around long enough to grate and you also got to see the movie very clearly recognise what a prig Sherlock was by having Watson punch him in the face a few times. It was a good movie, rough and awkward but also fun in its own way. I feel the judderiness, the jumping around, was designed to keep you from getting a good, clear look at the story and work it out too early.
A Game of Shadows is a sequel, and since it’s more of a chase than a mystery, it means there’s less need for that jumping around, and since that means there’s no downtime, it means this movie instead needs to focus, and that means cutting out things that can complicate that focus. This includes killing off Irene Adler in the first ten minutes because she, as the first movie showed, was connected to Moriarty and might be useful in opposing him. It means shoving Watson’s wife out of the picture so she doesn’t complicate things. It means making World War 1 into a money-making scheme by a Great Man and not a symptom of the wrongness of an era of Great Men. It means that this movie has to tighten its focus and really give you a lot of time to get to know Sherlock and hang around him.
This movie sucks ass.
There was a ton of ‘controversy’ around this movie at its announcement, which has seemingly died out, about the idea this movie ‘white washed’ history because Matt Damon plays a non-Chinese dude in China in a Chinese movie about China. Personally, the politics of China liking American movie stars is the kind of media studies thing that I’d love to hear people talk about, but I absolutely would not trust those people if they weren’t coming from actually inside China.
The premise of the movie is that the Great Wall of China was built, ‘really,’ to keep out actual honest-to-god alien monsters that plunder down once every sixty years. Honestly, it’s a sweet premise, with this big impressive physical object you get to stage massed battles around and then you can tie it to a bunch of steampunk warfare stuff as you try to make Aliens with tech better suited to House of Flying Daggers. It’s a great premise, honestly, and I kind of wish the movie itself was more memorable.
This movie got just enough attention to be contentious enough to be worth talking about, and so I watched it, or I tried to watch it, and then I tried to remember what I watched. This is a movie where the hero does a grappling-hook swing with a spear to drop a bomb on an alien queen in a fluttering blue cape and somehow I forgot that happened until I had to write this description.
At first I was worried that there was some undercurrent of unconscious racism in the way I can’t remember anyone’s names in this movie, when the movie has a cast of characters with names like Lin Mei, Zhao and Wang, but I realised in my first draft of this description that I’d described Matt Damon’s character with the names ‘Billiam’ and ‘Daniel.’
It’s weird because this movie has a lot of stuff going on that I’d normally really dig, not the least of which being if you watch clips of it on Youtube, they kind of kick ass. The monsters look cool, they’re not overstuffed with variations, you get massed battle shots and close-up shots, and your core conceit of ‘war vs the monsters’ is fine, but there’s somehow something lacking in the overall product. And I’m not alone in saying that – Chinese critics within China gave this movie a 4.9/10, or you know, a middle-of-the-road, guess-it’s-dece movie score, at least until the government pressured them to take those reviews down.
One final thing about this movie is that if you want to see the strange alchemy of movies at work, this movie’s official budget was $150 million, it took in $330 million, and yet the company making it consider it a loss of 75 million. Weird, huh?
Here’s the thing with these movies, but most of all Polar. Who was this for? Who liked this? The editing and cutting all paint Polar as a sort of movie that’s designed to get compared to John Wick obviously, Smoking Aces less obviously, and back to John Wick if you accept that obvious or not, it really is the best comparison. Mads Mikkelsen plays an assassin nearing retirement from one of your all-purpose money-wizard criminal groups that employ a bunch of colourful weirdo assassins.
What ensues is a movie that is like a much grosser version of John Wick, where instead of being about someone reawakening the beast, it’s about a group of cocky Youngs underestimating the power of Our Hero, The Old Person, and trying to screw him out of his pension, which I feel is an extremely Boomer kind of fear.
Anyway, the old guy is right and the best, kills a bunch of young people, and there’s a lot of nasty needless tits-and-death violence all chopped together. I think it says everything this movie needs that it opens with a dude taking viagra and making out with a woman a third his age that chains into a dead body with a boner in a needlessly elaborate murder.
It ultimately feels like Polar is a movie for someone who desperately wants to watch Mads Mikkelsen enacting pointless, convoluted old-person anxieties that may echo a need to be told that just because you’re old and haven’t achieved anything lately, you’re still the best in your field and all the young people doing better stuff than you ever did are underestimating you, in which case this movie is for Hideo Kojima.