*. Sometimes audiences get it right. Gnomeo and Juliet, a retelling of Shakespeare played by a bunch of lawn ornaments, chiefly garden gnomes, had been a big hit. So the call went out for a sequel. Many properties must have suggested themselves, and the movie even begins with a roll call: Game of Gnomes, The Gnome Ranger, The Twilight Gnome, and Spider-Man: Gnomecoming. But they settled on Sherlock Gnomes.
*. The box office, however, was disappointing. I think for the simple reason that it’s not as much fun. Gnomeo (James McAvoy) and Juliet (Emily Blunt) are back, and all but married, but Juliet has turned into a career woman and just takes Gnomeo for granted. Which would be a cliché but for the switching of gender roles. Meanwhile, Sherlock Gnomes (Johnny Depp) and Dr. Watson (Chiwetel Ejiofor) are trying to unravel a plot that has Moriarty trying to steal all of London’s garden gnomes.
*. My first thought in seeing the interplay between Gnomes and Moriarty was how much it sounded like the bickering going on between Batman and The Joker in The Lego Batman Movie. Which made me wonder at how we are now getting infantilized versions of cultural products that have always been popular with kids. If we’re moving toward some kind of lowest common denominator then we haven’t got there yet.
*. A second thought: the gang is pretty much all back again. Including Michael Caine and Maggie Smith as the elder gnomes. But along with the addition of Depp and Ejiofor I had to wonder why an animated film would bother with celebrity voices anyway. They’re not that recognizable, and Jamie Demetriou, who I’d never heard of before, is perfectly fine as Moriarty. Perhaps it’s just a way of getting people’s attention, but is it worth the expense? I guess Mary J. Blige (playing the Irene Adler character) gets to sing a song, so that’s something.
*. Blige’s song, by the way, struck me as unnecessary, and just another patch in a totally patchwork plot. As with Gnomeo and Juliet, several Elton John songs are sampled for musical cues that don’t make any dramatic sense. As the rescuers are flushed through a sewer we get “I’m Still Standing.” Escaping from another tight spot we get “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.” Why?
*. Mike McCahill in the Guardian: “after two films, this still looks and feels like a franchise driven more by commercial calculation than creative inspiration.” Hm. I wonder if there has ever been a franchise driven more by creative inspiration than commercial calculations. Off the top of my head I can’t think of any. So that’s sort of a dry point being made.
*. The lesson to be learned is that you should be nice to your friends. Sherlock is a jerk, but accepts a more equal partnership with Watson at the end, just as Juliet commits to being nicer to Gnomeo. That’s kind of thin, but even so the movie lets it down. As noted, Sherlock just isn’t a likeable, interesting, or funny character. Gnomeo and Juliet seem like add-ons to a plot that doesn’t need them to do anything. Nanette the frog is even more annoying than she was in the first movie. This is a movie that we didn’t need, and in the event few people wanted.