Well, the very two things that stuck out to us so much in the first movie remained ever-present for me as I watched this sequel: the chemistry between the two male leads and the strangely intellectual dimension to Holmes’ physical skills. Whereas I think you described the first installation as a long trailer for the true act with Moriarty (and I whole heartedly agreed with your interpretation at the time), I can’t say I enjoyed this second one nearly as much as the first. There were a few moments – when Holmes met with Moriarty in his office, for example – when the tension between the two, and Jared Harris’ acting in particular, was quite stunning. But I felt like the whole movie ran like a series of vignettes that, while quite beautifully produced, nevertheless lacked much narrative coherence. I thought the genius of Moriarty would bring us a great story – he seemed mostly to bring more explosions.
So, on to these two ever-present ponderings: first, the male lead chemistry. I don’t quite know what to make of it! I couldn’t tell if I was frustrated that they wouldn’t just consummate their shared desire, or if I was frustrated that I felt like the movie played off same-sex desire joke after same-sex desire joke in a crass, juvenile way. Either way, I was mostly frustrated until, while complaining about it to my husband afterwards, he responded, “yeah, but had they ever actually kissed, would it have felt right? Would you have said, yeah – that makes sense…that’s what I’ve been waiting for!” And I realized, I wouldn’t.
Yes, there’s great chemistry, even tension between the two – but this isn’t because we are to think they are in love or even just want to get it on with each other. Rather, I think something more intriguing is going on here – the chemistry between the two indicates the eros that underlies any powerful friendship…not necessarily sexual so much as exciting, passionate and creative of some sort of surplus energy eros that erupts as something more than the sum total of the friendship’s parts. I think the hint here came in Holmes’ brother’s comment to Mary – that she helps him imagine why someone could enjoy the company of women. This isn’t about who you want to sleep with – it’s about who you want to spend your time with. And in a culture where acceptable women’s roles seemed to exclude them from being interesting (at least within the framework of the film), why wouldn’t you share that passion for friendship with another man more than anyone you wanted to, as Watson put it, start a family with and enter society properly?
(Hence the great loss in Irene Adler’s death – man, that bummed me out. In the books, and somewhat in the films, she is just one badass awesome character. If this is a trilogy, I’m going to miss her immensely!)
And so the movie is, in many ways, about the power and significance of male friendships. While I celebrate that I live in a time when same-sex love stories can be told, I suppose something is lost when all stories told about a deep abiding bond between two people are interpreted as love (or, more accurately, sex). A story about passionate, loyal, charged up friendship almost automatically slips into the realm of sexuality. But what I think Ritchie was trying to do with this was maintain the passion of the friendship. If I interpret the movie through this lens, then I think I actually quite enjoyed it – or perhaps you think I’m being too generous?
Next: I noted in our review of the first film how strange I thought it was that Holmes narrated his fight moves in his mind, in words, before he executed them. This, I argued, seemed contrary to other superhero type characters (e.g., Daniel Craig’s James Bond), whose physical genius entails their ability to act by instinct, not thought – like a master boxer who can throw and land a perfect punch without “thinking” about it. If anything, I thought the near intellectual narration of physical moves undermined their brilliance.
Well wow, did they ever play that motif up in this sequel! I seriously got tired of needing to watch every action sequence twice. I realize we were building up to see that Holmes’ ability to defeat Moriarty lay in his willingness to transcend the parameters of their intellectual match. But I really found the stylized, quick cut, close up, jump in kind of editing and production of scenes tiresome. What did you think? Am I missing something here?
SPOILER ALERT – The rest of my note to Kathryn now contains a few spoilers for the movie’s ending – read ahead only if you have already seen the movie…or if you don’t care about having the ending ruined…
A few stray thoughts that I’ll leave for you if you feel like picking them up: I’m still thinking about Holmes’ “sacrifice” at the end. I guess it’s the seeker of christological tropes in me that enjoyed the idea of him giving up his own life in sacrifice for the lives of those he loved. I found that moment shocking and powerful. It made all the tom-foolery that came before suddenly serious. So I was oddly disappointed when that tom-foolery returned with the chair and the camouflage. On the other hand, in thinking about it after the fact, I think I liked that move – Holmes is of the age of reason and invention, not the age of christological tropes! Moreover, there is no sacrifice in his story – indeed, his story is utterly selfish from beginning to end. And so the christological reference is undone by the reassertion of human genius – and that type of religious undoing seems to be so much of what these movies are about (at least, that is one of the things we also noted about the first one), if not the books as well.
The only thing that my over-interpretive way of interacting with bad movies could not fix for me: really, they were wearing masks of each other’s faces?! Really!? All of the sudden the movie descended into a cross between Face Off and the second Mission Impossible movie (that was the one with all the weird, mask-related plot twists, right?). Weakest moment in the movie by far, in my view! What did you think?
Ok, hope you go see it…I’m intrigued to hear your thoughts! In the meantime, readers: what did you think of it?
Dear Moth Chase friends – don’t forget to check back later to read Kathryn’s response!