Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is dafter than daft. In fact it could hardly be dafter if the titular hero dangled from the side of an exploding express train while dressed as a woman, fought against WWI machine gunners in a German forest in 1891, drank embalming fluid, got crushed by a collapsing watch-tower, stabbed by a bayonet, injected with extracts from a dog’s adrenal gland, had a fist fight with an angry Cossack, fell off the Reichenbach Falls with his arch-nemesis, and lived to tell the tale*. Except that this is pretty much exactly what happens in this bizarre Hollywood re-jiggling of London’s greatest pre-Luther fictional detective. Like I said, daft.
Robert Downey Jr. stars once more as a Holmes pointlessly reimagined by some dollar-greedy multinational committee – probably through the medium of a thousand dreary conference calls – as a burbling, bumbling slapstick parody of Doyle’s sleuth par excellence. Downey Jr.’s Holmes has less in common with Baker street’s most famous fictional son than he does Inspector Gadget. Yet, through the use of his preternatural powers of ‘deductive reasoning’, Holmes somehow wins out over the equally cunning Professor James Moriarty, a man of unspeakable evil and finesse unimaginatively reimagined as a standardised Bond villain. Holmes and sidekick Dr. Watson (played surprisingly well by the usually sickening Jude Law) jump through a series of increasingly explosive, homoerotic, CG Hollywood action-hoops in an effort not only to save the world from the looming spectre of industrial war, but more importantly to save Doc Watson’s sense of masculine independence in the wake of his wedding.
Almost plot-free, A Game Of Shadows exploits the smoggy Victorian setting to create a kind of alternate-history, cyber-punk, big screen action-yawn – albeit one riveted together by a series of shallow mysteries, culminating in the ultimate Holmesian mystery: how did Sherlock survive the fall? But the real mystery here is that the film, against all odds, works. It’s entertaining, fast paced, funny, and the camera work is exciting and visually satisfying throughout. The action scenes are brilliantly conceived, if hard to follow at times, and the little slow-mo insight into Sherlock’s thought process as he plans, blow-by-blow, his final fight with Moriarty, is an ingenious solution to a formidable narrative problem. And you almost get to see Stephen Fry’s penis.
But it’s not just Hollywood that has Holmes on the mind. The BBC have been at it too, with the second series of its popular drama Sherlock hitting the small screens a few weeks ago. The BBC’s version is very different to the films and, despite its glaringly subtle gay subtext and its contemporary setting, is far closer to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s portrayal of Holmes than to Downey Jr.’s. However, in an almost certainly less-than-accidental coincidence, the series ends, like the film, with the spectacle of Holmes falling to his death – only to be seen happily resurrected a few scenes later (but only after we get to see Watson getting all dramatic and upset in a repressed, masculine sort of way, bless).
So why are we all so keen to see our hero die? And what’s with all this resurrection nonsense anyway? In neither the film or the series do we, the audience, find out how he does it. Well in the film we sort of do, but the use of a concealed oxygen mask is hardly enough to save even the world’s smartest man from a six-hundred and fifty-six foot fall onto jagged rocks. Maybe he bounced back up on his big, bouncy brain? Perhaps he used Moriarty’s corpse as a body-board? Who knows? Who cares! It’s Hollywood, where anything can happen. But the BBC… well,we’d expect more from them right? And this time good ol’ Auntie delivers. As a quick trawl of Google proves, T.V.’s latest Sherlock’s**** ‘death’ is a well planned mystery with a perfectly reasonable solution so elusive that it has Spock-minded web-geeks tied in logic-knots the length and breadth of the dweeb-o-sphere…
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But why all the yo-yo mortality? As any fan will tell you, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote his 1893 story The Final Problem in order to kill off his most popular creation for good. “He takes my mind from better things.” But then the fans got angry and the public cried out for Sir Arthur C.D. to bring Sherlock back from the dead. It was the ultimate cliff-hanger, though unplanned, but eventually Doyle caved in to popular demand and found a way of resurrecting his character. But why the passionate outcry? And why the continuous popularity of the character – along with his death and resurrection – over the years?
Arguably, the passive viewing of films and prime-time T.V. dramas represents the highest spiritual achievement of the majority of the world’s sofa-slumping, MSG-munching populus. Once upon a time people used to gather round fires and tell stories, myths handed down by word of mouth reflecting the collective wisdom of the people. Then religions sprung up, eventually leading to the tired old monotheistic behemoths from which many people today still squeeze a few drops of guidance//suffering//meaning//nonsense [[delete as is your want]]. Now most people gather round the cold light of screens.
But now we’re all much smarter than all those olden-day thickos – obviously! – and we know there’s no God ‘cos Science says so, innit. And we have Brian Cox and Richard Dawkins to make us all feel special and clever – which, of course, we are. We’re amazing. We invented X-factor: who needs God? But despite all our miraculous scientific achievements – tape-measures, iPads, Moon Landings, mathematics, barometers, automobiles, evolutionary theories, apps, cameras, microwaves, mass-marketed vibrators, big bangs, Xboxes, satellites, gastroenterolgists, tampons, atom-bombs and fun-yielding helical springs – the world can still perhaps feel like a directionless whirl of sickening doubts and morbid confusion, a mundane drizzle cake topped off with the eternal cherry of nothingness. Yum! But whether we read The Quran or Spider-Man, watch Hollywood films or Premier-League football, play Skyrim or read The Guardian, stories and narratives help us make some kind of personal sense of all the stuff and nonsense. And Sherlock Holmes? He’s simply another one in a long line of immortal micro-saviours, our current Christ du jour. We’re dafter than daft.
The End ?**
* He doesn’t so much live to tell the tale as much as to embellish it with a dramatic sense of mystery, using one of these: ?
**Of Course Not!***
****Played by Benedict Cumberbatch*****
*****Who is apparently a villain in the new Star Trek film******
******Yes, that is irrelevant