[Contraction report: Yesterday eased off by a lot, and in a sudden flash of energy I left the house for the second time since Christmas, and went and saw the new Sherlock Holmes with CJ. Today the contractions have been happening a fair bit since 4pm - it's 10pm now - but I think they're slowing down again. Stupid things. It's a strange state, to be wishing for pain to hurry up.]
Some of you are aware of how very much I loved the first “Sherlock Holmes” film. The two films are close enough to steampunk that I’ve tagged this accordingly.
Sequels are a difficult thing to do well. Here’s four reasons why, and my comments on how successful this particular sequel has been:
1. The stakes must be greater than in the first movie – but not so great that they are either laughably ridiculous or disconnected to the hero’s personal goals.
In terms of general plot, the stakes are certainly larger. But the winner here is that the stakes are more personal. Full marks.
2. The villain must be more powerful – with the same caveats.
Moriarty is a MUCH better villain than Lord Blackwood (not that Lord Blackwood wasn’t a perfectly good villain – he was). He is the perfect opponent to Sherlock (and even more evil than Blackwood).
3. All the aspects that made the first film great must also be present in the next film – but without being repetitive or unoriginal.
There is still plenty of humour (particularly witty banter between Holmes and Watson) and plenty of action. Still quite a bit of Holmes-style deduction, but perhaps a smidgen less of each.
Much of the humour and character of the first film came from the odd domesticity of Holmes and Watson’s living arrangements, which often cause squabbles while the two men are otherwise busy having a fight scene. That juxtaposition of bickering and near-death experience is certainly still present, but the second movie deepens both their individual characters and their relationship. The actors became, if anything, even more charming and watchable than before. I was VERY impressed once again by the writers’ characterisation work.
One of the clever things about the first movie was the fight scenes, which happened once in slow motion in Holmes’ head, and then again in real time. Fights became (a) comprehensible to the viewer (unlike all too many modern fight scenes), and (b) incredibly intellectual (and all the more savage for it).
I was disappointed by the first fight scene in this movie, but it turned out I should have been more trusting. Each fight scene improved on the last, riffing on the slow-motion-in-Holmes’-head idea in a multitude of original ways. Each one was better than the one before. Again, I was seriously impressed.
The Victorian/steampunk feel is still present, although there are less devices and more gypsies.
If you enjoyed the supernatural thrills of the first movie – sorry, they’re gone (I say that’s a good thing).
There was one other aspect that I really enjoyed from the first film that is barely present in this film, but I can’t say what it is without ruining things for you :-P I think the writers showed courage in the choices they made, and ultimately it paid off.
4. And the film must have its own unique X factor that makes it special in its own right.
The X-factor here is all about the three new characters – Moriarty, Mycroft (Stephen Fry!!!! Squee!), and the gypsy girl (whose name I can’t remember). The writers managed to introduce new spice to the existing cast without being indulgent of their own previous favourites or of the exciting new talent. That balance is extremely rare in a sequel (“Pirates of the Caribbean” became stupidly top-heavy due to having too many big names, each of whom had to have their own special scene), and I was impressed once more.
The film had two very silly scientific moments, but I forgive it, because they were very much played for laughs.