Where Have All the Women Gone?
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is the sequel to 2009’s successful film directed by Guy Ritchie. The franchise has definitely found its feet with Game of Shadows, and Ritchie’s interpretation of Victorian England is a steampunk world that audiences will enjoy visiting again. Much in like the first movie, Ritchie leaves breadcrumbs for people to reward people who pay close attention, all leading up to a grand show at the conclusion. His trademark choreography of action scenes is enthusiastic, and at times, includes too much slow-motion.
Holmes and Watson function as a team who brawl verbally with one another and physically with their enemies. There are many slow-motion action scenes, and some people may get tired of them, but they are just as much Ritchie’s signature as white doves are iconic of John Woo’s cinematography.
While I enjoyed the movie for what it is: a celebration of the male bromance, with added detecting, I found certain aspects of the movie troubling.
Audiences who have seen its predecessor will remember the fiery and capable Irene Adler: a woman who pickpockets the men who try to rob her, wears pants as often as she wears a dress, and who dives straight into the action. She has outsmarted Sherlock Holmes several times, and continues to be a puzzle to him – and when Watson notes that Irene is frightened of the mysterious Professor Moriarty (at that time unnamed), he cautions Holmes not to pursue the case. The implication is that if Irene is wary of this man, then he is an opponent not to be trifled with.
However, Game of Shadows gives us a much different, and abbreviated glimpse at Irene. First she is tricked by Sherlock, then Moriarty gets the better of her, and she is removed from the rest of the movie. I was not completely surprised by this, as having more than one woman in any action movie, steampunk or not, is rare.
Mary had to be involved, as she is now married to Watson, but even she is pushed, quite literally, to the background fairly early on. Even Noomi Rapace’s character, Simza, the gypsy who becomes entangled in Moriarty’s spider web is not given much of a chance to be an active participant in the case. She has very few lines, and spends most of the movie being off-balance, or running away from things. The focus of the movie is on Holmes and Watson’s relationship, and what form it will take now that Watson has gotten married. There are two other pairs of men whose connections feature more prominently than any of the female characters: Professor Moriarty and his second-in-command, Moran, as well as Mycroft Holmes and his valet, Caruthers.
Although Caruthers and Moran are not the equals of Mycroft and Moriarty, both due to the class system and being employees of these men, they are included in all the action, unlike Mary, Irene, and Simza.
It’s impossible not to notice this and label it a ‘trend’ rather than a mistake when it’s the case in the three most prominent relationships in the movie.
Irene is absent for most of the picture, Mary has a peripheral role, but appears briefly, and Simza is a secondary character. Of all the women, Simza is the only one who does not have a relationship with any of the men, and it raises the question in that is the reason that her presence is acceptable. She doesn’t threaten Holmes and Watson’s relationship, and is largely a plot device when she is not offscreen.
Audiences can enjoy ‘A Game of Shadows’ and its blatant staging of the ‘adventure/honeymoon’ that Holmes embarks on with Watson, but they should also note the absence of women.
This is a movie that not only glories in the connection between Sherlock and Watson, but in the strong bonds between men. No matter what the apparent class divide or background between men, it is their bonds that are celebrated, and Game of Shadows implies that there is little room for women in this world.