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‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows’

Attraction is elementary, my darling Watson

by Kaori Shoji

If Arthur Conan Doyle were around today, would he have a blog? I’m willing to bet yes, and that it would boast record-breaking numbers of visits, especially from the gay community. The world of Sherlock Holmes feeds on repressed sexuality and elegant homosexual aesthetics — imagine what a good Web designer could do with such wealth of material.

Besides, as many Sherlockians have agreed, Holmes had a definite thing for Dr. Watson. They shared rooms, they shared meals, and until Watson left their cozy abode on 221B Baker Street to marry a client, the pair were inseparable. Years later, when Holmes re-entered Watson’s life, he did so knowing that the wife had conveniently died and persuaded his friend to come back, assuring him that work is the best cure for sorrow.

This is pure Holmes rhetoric; Doyle always clothed the detective’s motives in a mantle woven of English work ethics. Work was both Holmes’ excuse and raison d’être. His feelings for Watson (when he dared express them) were always couched in relation to the criminal case at hand. One always suspected, however, that Holmes wasn’t quite the cold fish he was made out to be.

Perhaps director Guy Ritchie felt the same way, since his “Sherlock Holmes” in 2009 introduced a mischievous, roguish and even carnal side to the immortal London detective. Played with stunning insight and devilish relish by Robert Downey Jr. in tight, Raf Simons-ish suits, Holmes traipsed through London with impish grace.

But his face was inevitably turned toward the figure of Watson (Jude Law) skipping alongside him, as if to make sure his darling friend was enjoying the mystery-solving too. And when the day’s work was done, they’d reconnoiter on Baker Street to drink and smoke and throw innuendos at each other. Chummy, campy and interspersed with a lot of pistol-firing action sequences, the film went above and beyond the realm of tribute.

And now the duo are back in “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” — along with the same director (Ritchie seems to have a successful franchise on his hands now) and the same “ideal woman,” Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), who as in the last film gets as much lovin’ from Holmes as a plate of kippers.

In the original series by Conan Doyle, Holmes had just one encounter with Irene but kept her photograph, which Watson duly noted as a rare, rare occurrence. In Ritchie’s films, Irene is much more in Holmes’ face, practically screaming for his attention, the poor thing.

This time around, Holmes is even less inclined to dally with her. His foe has “the most formidable criminal mind in Europe” — Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris), that most sinister of baddies from Conan Doyle’s original series — and here, the detective develops an obsession with the man that makes his chest heave. Moriarty is the veritable “other woman” to Watson’s “devoted girlfriend,” and by the end of an hour, all three men get their knickers in a major twist.

Throwing a bit of cold water on this delicious ménage à trois is the presence (superfluous but obviously necessary for box office) of Noomi Rapace (the original “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”) as Gypsy fortune-teller Simza. She’s never as shrill as McAdams’ Irene and is suitably self-contained, which intrigues Holmes. But only a little. Work-addicted, ego-centric dude that he is, Holmes’ personal interest in Simza extends as far as extracting information about Moriarty. And then he skips off to join Watson, the rascal.

Holmes has become an even naughtier bit of goods than in his last outing, and it all seems to be for Watson’s benefit. Pushing a woman off a train, throwing a 19th-century stag party and stripping at the least provocation count among some of his more notable escapades. What some men will do for love.