Saturday, April 28, 2012

OSS 117: Le Caire, nid d'espions (Cairo, Nest of Spies) -- naivety, political incorrectness and alcohol

Director: Michel Hazanavicius, 2006. (NR) 

Before James Bond there was Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, alias OSS 117. The star of a large series of French books by Jean Bruce in the 1950s, he was transformed into a spy movie star in the late 50s and early 60s, long before Sean Connery took on the 007 role for Hollywood. Some 40 years later, Michel Hazanavicius has resurrected the hero in a hugely funny film that spoofs the 50s films without quite parodying them.

Hazanavicius, who won the best director Oscar this year for last year’s silent black and white film The Artist, combined with his Oscar-winner from that movie and his wife. Jean Dujardin plays OSS 117 with a French mustache and manly build. Indeed, he looks just a little like the early Sean Connery Bond. Opposite him as Larmina, an Egyptian coworker and operative, is Berenice Bejo, the director’s wife who also was in The Artist.

When Hubert’s friend Jack (Philippe Lefebvre), who is a French spy, disappears in Cairo, Hubert is sent there to investigate. As background cover, he takes over a chicken firm run by Jack and is aided by Larmina. Set in 1955, it is the height of the cold war, France is in its fourth republic with a dying colonial empire, and political correctness is unheard of.

Cairo is a nest of spies, with people following people following other people. There is a beautiful femme fatale (Aure Atika) who wants to both seduce and assassinate OSS 117. Paranoia runs rampant. But OSS 117 is unaware of much of what is going on. A naive idiot.

Much of the fun of the film is in the comedic timing. Dujardin displays a wonderful sense of timing, and has marvelous control of his facial and bodily expressions. He can convey whole sentences with a raising of an eyebrow or a guffaw. It is clear that all the actors are enjoying themselves thoroughly. Hazanavicius has captured the atmosphere of the period and pays homage to several film classics, such as Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much.

There is little in the way of plot. Various characters and groups show up, including a terrorist Muslim organization, a secret group of Nazis and some Russians. But the plot is superfluous really. The fun is in the journey. With hotel fights, chicken fights, cat fights, and silly alley chases, the action keeps the film moving. But it is OSS 117’s flawed misogynistic character that is the heart of the film. In the middle of a foreign city he displays cutting condescension to the “foreigners” (i.e. non-French people) there, without even realizing what he is doing.

One of the funniest sequences shows flashbacks of him playing on the beach with Jack in headier days. Throwing his head back, mouth wide open and laughing deep belly laughs, he looks like a young Errol Flynn. But his cavorting in the surf with Jack hints at homosexuality in an era when this was frowned upon in the movies. Yet Hubert is homophobic and heterosexual.

His political incorrectness and superiority is most clear in his ignorance of Islam, though he is in an Islamic country. Awakened by the call to prayer, he cries out for the muezzin to be silent and takes matters into his own hands. Then when Larmina refuses a drink, he exclaims, “What stupid religion would forbid alcohol?” And he means it, coming from an atheist.

This insensitivity towards a host country’s religion is shocking today, but less so in the 1950s. Yet, it highlights how important it is to understand culture to refrain from offending. OSS 117 tramples all over such trifles. But as Christians, we are called to “become all things to all people so that by all possible means we [I] might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). That means finding common points of contact, like Paul did with the Greeks in Athens (Acts 17) rather than alienate them by stepping on their traditions or religion.

Yet it also raises a question about religion. Is a religion that forbids alcohol stupid? Well, alcohol is known to add fuel to the fire of violence when taken to excess. It can lead to addiction and is a cause of accident and death when people drive drunk. But a religion that forbids alcohol is by definition a religion based on morality and rules, and not on grace and love.

Does Christianity forbid alcohol? Many Christian denominations frown upon the partaking of alcohol. I was in a church where members were looked down upon if they imbibed. But Jesus speaks clearly about wine, even turning water into wine at the joyous celebration of the wedding in Cana (Jn. 2). Some argue that this is grape juice, but that is a misreading of the text. The context calls out for this to be alcoholic wine. The apostle Paul even instructed his mentee Timothy to “use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses” (1 Tim. 5:23). This, too, is alcoholic.

Yet, the Bible also vigorously warns against the excesses of alcohol: “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise” (Prov. 20:1). And, “Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat” (Prov. 23:20). Proverbs 23:29-35 paints the picture of a drunken man reeling from the night’s revelry. Paul in the New Testament commands, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). It is a matter of balance, of avoiding excess. Restraint, not restriction, is the right call in Christianity, which itself is a relationship of love with Jesus not a religion.

So, laugh at OSS 117 and let him have his incorrectness. But learn from him and be sensitive to those you are trying to love, trying to touch. His naivety creates his character. Similar naivety today discredits our character.

Copyright©2012, Martin Baggs

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo -- gratuitous violence with depravity 2

Director: David Fincher, 2011. (R)

Having watching the Swedish version that came out in 2009, and recently read all three of Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy, I was ready to watch the English version of the first book, the mega-million seller. At the end of my review of the earlier film, I commented “hopefully that will leave more to the imagination than this one”. It does, but not by much.

The two main characters, left-wing investigative reporter Mikael Blomkvist and antisocial hacker Lisbeth Salander are played by Daniel Craig (the current James Bond) and Rooney Mara respectively. They anchor the film, while Christopher Plummer, the oldest Oscar-winner in history (picking up his best actor prize at age 82 in 2011 for Beginners), and Stellan Skarsgard offer strong performances as Henrik and Martin Vanger, the former and current CEO of the Vanger family business. And Robin Wright (The Princess Bride) plays Erika Berger, Blomkvist’s lover and co-founder of Millenium, the newspaper he runs and writes for.

When Blomkvist is found guilty of libel he is offered a strange job by Henrik Vanger: to come to remote family island and write his biography. Really, he wants Blomkvist to find the killer of his niece. He believes it is one of his strange family members. The murder happened 40 years earlier and so the cold case needs magic to find a new approach. Blomkvist brings that magic and when he discovers a string of murders, he needs an assistant. Vanger’s lawyer suggests Salander, the woman who investigated him and found things even Blomkvist had forgotten. Together, they dig deep enough to become targets themselves.

Salander is an interesting character. Tatted out and wearing rings in any place possible, she exudes sociopath. She seems to be dumb and crazy. Crazy she might be, but dumb she is not. She is antagonistic towards authority, and leans both ways sexually. Little of her backstory is told, but we do find out more about her guardianship. Institutionalized at 13, she is now a ward of the state. When her newest guardian sexually assaults her and then later ties, rapes and tortures her, we understand something of her hatred.

Fincher’s version plays closer to the source material. We do see more of Salander’s past including her former guardian, the one she is close to. But he also conflates some material from the second book to explain more of her teenage problems. Berger is more of a character here, and that is important as she becomes more prominent in the subsequent two books.

Yet, it feels like he left a lot out. The story, long at 158 minutes, seems to fly by leaving much of depth of the book out. However, where the Swedish version ends at the solving of the murder mystery, this version continues with the book to bring closure to the subplot of Blomkvist’s libel.

Like the earlier version, there is much violence, too much so. The rape scene is a little more restrained yet still feels gratuitous. Watching it made me feel dirty, as though I was there and let it happen.

I have explored the key themes of the film in my earlier film response, and I won’t repeat in detail my comments. As with that film, depravity is on display dead-center. Not only does it come across in the rape of Salander, but also in the torture of the female victims and the misanthropic dealings of the Venger family. And there are ethical considerations behind hacking.

All in all, I found this version a little less grisly and a little more complete than the Swedish version. Best of all, though, was the book. It’s a long book but certainly a good read, if you can stomach this kind of mystery.

Copyright©2012, Martin Baggs

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Films that take Faith Seriously

Here's a great blog post on films that take faith seriously. How many have you seen? What others would you add? I have seen 17 and posted reviews of 7 on this site.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy -- spies, servants and masters

Director: Tomas Alfredson, 2011. (R) 

It’s been almost 40 years since John Le Carre’s book “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” was first published. The early 1970s saw the cold war well underway, and the book focused on this espionage drama. In contrast to the flamboyant James Bond spy stories (and movies) which exhude action, gadgets and girls, Carre’s novel is slow and thoughtful, lacking the violence and sex. Its main character George Smiley (Gary Oldman, The Book of Eli) is a gray-haired who is so silent and withdrawn that he could be a tortoise.

I read the book three decades ago and remember it as a terrific novel, full of deep characterization and an elaborate plot. I saw the six-hour BBC mini-series adaptation which was enjoyable and penetrable. However, this 2-hour film is dense and confusing. Filled with at least a dozen crucial characters, the opacity of the plot left me puzzled at the end, wondering exactly what had transpired. It is simply too much story in too little time.

That is not to say the convoluted movie is a total disaster. The director has established a terrific atmosphere, capturing the dinginess of London in the 1970s, with dirty streets and smoky rooms. The cast is a whos who of top British talent, including Oldman, John Hurt, Mark Strong, Toby Jones, Colin Firth and Ciarin Hinds. Indeed, Oldman earned an Academy Award nomination for this role in which he says little and retains a stoic, almost expressionless face. Without disrespect to this talented actor, this was not his best role. The costumes and sets are visually exquisite, too. But these cannot illuminate the mystery of the plot.

The film begins with Control (Hurt), the head of the British Intelligence Service, sending Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong, Sherlock Holmes) to Budapest to negotiate a defection. But things go terribly wrong, Prideaux is shot, and Control is forced to resign. Along with him goes Smiley, his right hand man. That leaves a cadre of four men in suits to run the Circus (the nickname for the agency): Percy Alleline (Toby Jones, Flickerman's cohost in The Hunger Games), Toby Esterhase (David Dencik), Bill Hayden (Colin Firth, The King's Speech), and Roy Bland (Ciarin Hinds, The Debt). And Alleline’s newest operation, code-named Witchcraft, is bringing untold gems of intelligence from the Soviets but he has not shared the source.

After a year in retirement, Smiley is approached by a senior government official and told that there is a mole at the top of the Circus and is asked to investigate. Working with assistant Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch), they find that Control had suspected the top four, code-naming them Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

There are two major themes in the film. The first is introduced when one of the four says to Smiley: “Things are not always what they seem.” This could be said of life itself. We see the physical world all around us but are blind to the invisible world of spirits, angels and demons. Yet, there is a war going on, a cold war between these spirits of light and darkness (Dan. 10:12-13). Moreover, “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). He comes to us as an agent of goodness, of light, when in fact he wants our destruction (Jn. 10:10). Like Smiley, we find ourselves engaged in this cold war, and we need to avail ourselves of the spiritual armor of God (Eph. 6:10-20). Using these defensive and offensive weapons we can stand firm when the devil attacks.

The second theme emerges from another interaction between Smiley and one of the four. “You survived this long, I suppose, because of your ability to change sides, to serve any master,” says Smiley. The potential spy retorts, “What’s this about, George?” And Smiley answers, “It’s about which master you’ve been serving.”

The survivor has acted like a chameleon, changing masters as needed, never showing true loyalty. The spy, on the other hand, has shown loyalty, but switched this loyalty. He has sold out one master to serve another, for political or pragmatic reasons. Jesus talks about serving two masters: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Lk. 16:13). We must choose whom we will serve. If we sell out for money, we are serving Mammon and we have chosen against God. We are all serving something or someone, but we can make it a conscious choice rather than subconscious choice. In doing so, we can make it apparent who or what sits on the throne of our heart. We must not be like the survivor or the spy, but like the saint, who is devoted to the one true God. Smiley knew which master he was serving, do you?

Copyright©2012, Martin Baggs

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Final reminder of Movie Group this Saturday: Rango, Mosaic Church, 4:30pm

Movie group is this Saturday. We have the super-improved set-up for this church screening, including the 8’x14’ HD screen set up on stage, and a HD projector and Blu-ray player.
Come see the 2012 Oscar-winning animated movie Rango, that is generally suitable for children. Note, though, that it's a little more grown-up than your average animated film.
  • What: Rango (PG)
  • When: Saturday 4/21/12, 4:30pm
  • Where: Mosaic Church
Unlike earlier movie group seasons, we won't be serving popcorn, bagels and cream cheese, but feel free to bring your own favorite munchies and drink. We will offer coffee for the post-movie discussion. We'll plan on hanging out in the church for about 30 minutes after the screening to interact about the film.

Child-care has been cancelled because we have had had no requests for it.

Hope to see you at this screening.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Book Review: Man Alive -- short and simple, leaves us wanting more

Author: Patrick Morley, 2012. (Multnomah Books)  

"I'd estimate that 90 percent of Christian men lead lukewarm, stagnant, defeated lives -- and they hate it." That is quite a statement, and it comes from Patrick Morley on the rear cover of this book. He probably should know, as he has written 17 books for men and has led a weekly Bible study for 5000 men for years now.

This intriguing premise sets the tone for the book. Morley describes seven symptoms that men experience of not feeling alive, symptoms that show they are settling for less than maximum living. Then he outlines the seven primal needs that form the skeleton of the book:
  1. To feel like I don't have to do life alone
  2. To believe -- really believe -- that God knows, loves and cares about me personally
  3. To believe that my life has a purpose -- that my life is not random
  4. To break free from the destructive behaviors that keep dragging me down
  5. To satisfy my soul's thirst for transcendence, awe and communion
  6. To love and be loved without reservation
  7. To make a contribution and leave the world a better place
Each chapter, after the first, addresses one of the symptoms and offers a solution. Most of the solutions are obvious, and that is clear from the very start. "Digging into the Word of God is easily the number one factor that differentiates men who have tapped into God's power" (p.8). The root solution is found in scripture. And from there comes communion with others, trusting God, becoming a disciple, repenting, loving, fulfulling the Great Commision (Matt. 28:18-20) and the Creation Mandate (Gen. 1:26-27).

Morley's book spans less than 200 pages and is a fast read. Full of anecdotes and stories, it skimps on the deep theology and focuses on the practical. Unlike his first and most successful book, "The Man in the Mirror," this felt like a reader's digest for a deeper book. I affirmed most of what he wrote, but was left wanting more.

Don't get me wrong. I am not panning the book. There is practical truth within these covers. Indeed, the chapter on love and be loved offers 10 very useful suggestions on how to show "love-is-what-love-does" to your wife and 10 more for your children. It is just that it feels like a mid-afternoon snack that is a foretaste for a sumptuous dinner that never shows up.

"No man should have to settle for half alive. You can become the man God created you to be," says Morley on his back cover. "Man Alive" will help you become fully alive, and perhaps that is good enough for this simple book.

Note: I received a free copy from Waterbrook Publishing but was not influenced to provide a positive review

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Johnny English Reborn -- silly spy spoof

Director: Oliver Parker, 2011. (PG) 

It’s been 8 years since Johnny English came out, more than enough time to have forgotten this silly British character. Now he returns in this spoof spy sequel that nonetheless stands alone. Once again Rowan Atkinson, who some might recall from British TV comedy as the Black Adder or Mr. Bean, reprises his eponymous role as Britain’s least intelligent spy.

Disgraced after a washed up mission in Mozambique, English has been retired and is rebuilding himself in Tibet as the movie opens, an obvious take-off of Bruce Wayne’s time in Tibet in Batman Begins. But he is recalled to England by Pegasus (Gillian Anderson), head of MI7 when she needs him to stop Vortex, an evil agency, from assassinating the Chinese premier. If it sounds like a James Bond movie, that’s because it is a clear parody of the 007 genre, down to the gadgets and the babes. In this case, the babe in question is the Kate (Rosamund Pike, An Education), a behavioral psychologist instructed to watch over English. Add to the plot the fact that there is a mole, or is that a vole, in the heart of MI7 and English doesn’t know who to trust. He is not even sure about his partner Agent Tucker (Daniel Kaluuya), a wet-behind-the –ears trainee who is not too young to go into the casino with him.

The plot itself is far-fetched with gaping holes, not least of which is the ever-present elderly Chinese woman, who is constantly seeking to kill English. But the film stands on the comic shoulders of Atkinson. The dialog and story might be weak, but his vaudeville humor is strong enough to make this work. Most of the fun is in the sight-gags, and these utilize Atkinson’s facial and body contortions to the max.

Moreover, the pacing is well timed and the comic-action scenes clever enough to suspend disbelief. Two chases stand out: the first is in Macau, across roof-tops and then up-river, with English taking a sage, if not athletic, approach to stopping a killer. The second finds English in a 60 mph wheel-chair driving through the center of London chased by MI7, who think he is the mole.

This is clearly a superficial film, mindless entertainment. There is no depth; there is no obvious redeeming quality. Yet, on the other hand, it is not filled with language and sex. If you like English humor, if you enjoyed Hot Fuzz, you’ll find this to be a jolly old romp. Turn on the mock violence and, as Johnny English says in his clipped English accent, “Let’s kick some bottom!”

Copyright©2012, Martin Baggs

Sunday, April 8, 2012

April Movie Group: Rango, Sat 4/21 at 4:30 at Mosaic Church

April will be our last movie group at the church for this 2011/2012 season. To make it accessible for families, we selected the 2012 Oscar-winning animated movie Rango, that is generally suitable for children. Note, though, that it's a little more grown-up than your average animated film due to a few frightening characters, some stronger language ("hell" and "damn" in the vocabulary), and "uglier" character design.

  • What: Rango (PG), 107 mins
  • When: Saturday 4/21/12, 4:30pm
  • Where: Mosaic Church
Unlike earlier movie group seasons, we won't be serving popcorn, bagels and cream cheese, but feel free to bring your own favorite munchies and drink. We will offer coffee for the post-movie discussion. We'll plan on hanging out in the church for about 30 minutes after the screening to interact about the film.

One of my daughters has committed to provide child care if that is needed and requested; however, please respond by Thursday 4/19 so I can firm up child care needs. If no one responds, we will cancel the child care option.   

We might have a May screening, but if we do it will be a mid-week date at a second-run theater.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Catch Me if You Can -- not giving up, living the lie

Director: Stephen Spielberg, 2002. (PG-13) 

Set in the 1960s, Catch Me if You Can is one part elaborate cat-and-mouse chase, one part social satire, and one part breezy fun. Based on the real-life story of Frank Abignale Jr, an audacious con-man who impersonated an airline pilot, a doctor and an attorney general before he turned 20, Spielberg has crafted a light film that downplays the moral issues while focusing on the two main characters: Abignale Jr. and Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks).

Frank is a student in a preppy high school, living in a posh house with his parents. But his dad, Frank (Christopher Walken), is being investigated for tax evasion and has to sell and move. When Frank starts at a new public school wearing his uniform from his previous school, he appears to be a teacher. And he discovers his gift: he can convince people. He is a budding con-man. This opening scene where he becomes the substitute French teacher is funny and becomes one of the keys to his future career path.

A little later, he discovers his mother is having an affair and soon his parents divorce. A lawyer tells him to choose which one he will live with, and instead he runs away to New York City where he tries to live by cashing fraudulent checks. The second key to his behavior is this: he wants his family to be reunited, and he wants his father to rise above his troubles and reclaim his former glory.

In fact, Frank Sr tells a parable to the rotary club that was honoring him that further establishes Frank Jr.’s motives:
“Two little mice fell in a bucket of cream. The first mouse quickly gave up and drowned. The second mouse, wouldn't quit. He struggled so hard that eventually he churned that cream into butter and crawled out. Gentlemen, as of this moment, I am that second mouse.”
He never gave up, he kept struggling to make it out. This parable is recited twice more in the movie, and underscores Frank Jr.’s desire to never give up on trying to bring his parents back together.

In New York, Frank Jr. discovers that Pan Am pilots are treated like celebrities. They are stars afforded luxuries mere mortals cannot imagine. So, he gets himself a uniform and voila he is a pilot! From there, be begins a life of cashing checks worth millions.

These checks get the attention of Hanratty, a dour New England FBI agent who loves and lives his job. As he pursues the con man, their paths cross in a motel room where Hanratty has Frank literally at the end of his gun barrel. But Frank confidently pulls another con and calmy walks out a free man. This first interchange seals the relationship and ensures that Hanratty will make it his commitment to arrest Frank.

Frank moves on from pilot to physician. He takes on the persona of a doctor, learning his bedside manner from the TV show Marcus Welby MD. After he falls for a young nurse (Amy Adams, ), and meets her family, he decides to be a lawyer like her father (Martin Sheen, The Way). Here he studies Perry Mason on TV to learn courtroom mannerisms. He is a quick self-study.

Speilberg succeeds in wanting us to root for an amoral criminal, even as he cheats and deceives his way across America. Yet even while we cheer on the antihero Frank, he also has us understanding and sympathizing with Hanratty, knowing that in the end he will get his man. It’s a fine balance that Spielberg accomplishes with his deft directing.

One of the ethical themes emerges when Hanratty asks Frank how he gets away with it. “People only know what you tell them, Carl,” Frank tells him. He points out that the reason the Yankies win is because of the stripes in their uniforms. People are distracted by them. They see what they want to see. The point is that people generally take things at face value. If they see a man in a pilot’s uniform with the right kind of badge approaching the cockpit, they assume he is a pilot. If they are in the hospital and a man in a white coat with a badge and a stethoscope steps forward, it is a given that he is a doctor.

Some might call this human gullibility. Others might name it naivety. It is our natural tendency to believe what we are told. We usually want to believe what people say. If this were not so, others would not believe us, and we would have to justify everything we said with evidence. We simply cannot do this in normal living.

On the other hand, though, our enemy the devil knows this and puts it to his advantage. Jesus called him, “a liar and the father of lies” (Jn. 8:44). Indeed, the apostle Paul said, “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). He was the first “con-man” deceiving by pretending to be what he was not. He did this at the beginning as the serpent in the garden, lying to Eve (Gen. 3), and he continues to do this today, to you and me.

Sometimes we even lie to ourselves. Hanratty points this out, at the end of the film, when he is confronted by Frank: “sometimes it’s easier living the lie.” Even Frank seems to be lying to himself, refusing to believe what his father tells him, and living with the impossible dream that his parents can reconcile. We want to believe, but we cannot face the truth. So we believe our own lies, living with them so long that they become the truth to us.

The antidote to this self-lying is to face the truth. The antidote to wanting to believe what people say is to check the claims. Doctor Luke, the writer of Acts, holds up the Berean Jews that he encountered on his missionary journeys as examples of this. “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (Ac. 17:11)

We cannot afford to be distracted. We cannot simply believe everything we see or hear. We need to be cautious in giving out our trust. But we need to avoid giving way to cynicism, which will slowly choke out faith and life. It’s a fine balance. But when we find it, then let’s be like that second mouse and not give up.

Copyright©2012, Martin Baggs

Monday, April 2, 2012

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows -- bullets and bandages

Director: Guy Ritchie, 2011. (PG-13) 

Bullets and bandages. These tie the movie to the theme of conflict which I’ll interact with. But hold that thought for now.  

Guy Ritchie introduced his interpretation of Sherlock Holmes in 2009 in a marvelously fun feature starring Robert Downey Jr as the legendary detective and Jude Law as his sidekick, Dr. Watson. He reprises the characters with the same actors in a longer and less fun film, this one even bearing a subtitle: Game of Shadows. And it is a game of shadows. The biggest problem with this film is that discovering the plot is a game of shadows. It takes far too long, almost till the end of act 2 to figure out really what’s going on. What saves the day is the renewed chemistry between Holmes and Watson.

Like the first film, Downey Jr and Law play off each other like an old married couple. Their banter, begun before, continues at a higher level this time and it is fun enough to keep us watching even while we are wondering if the film is going anywhere. And before anyone gets the idea that perhaps Holmes and Watson are a couple of gay guys, Ritchie throws in two female love interests, one for each.

For Holmes, Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams, Midnight in Paris) reappears as the intrepid American who can play both sides off against each other. Sadly, though, she disappears even before the opening credits. By the end of the lengthy prologue she has died, and with her goes any hopes Holmes may have of a romance. But he is so focused on an international intrigue that no one else has spotted and that cause the end of civilization as he knows it, that he needs no distractions.

Watson, on the other hand, is getting married to Mary (Kelly Reilly), a fact that has slipped Holmes’ mind. Watson is happy to be distracted and away from Holmes’ adventures and mysteries. He wants nothing more than to go on his honeymoon with his new honey.

Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris, son of the late Richard Harris) has other plans. Holmes’ evil arch-nemesis schemes and plots, but in a distinctly gentlemanly manner, befitting a university don. Yet Harris plays him in too genteel of a way. His evil is unbelievable. The intellect is clear, but he does not command the screen as a compelling villain.

Stephen Fry appears as Holmes’ brother Mycroft, but has little to do. He is mostly wasted in what could have been a terrific support. Noomi Rapace, the star of the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, features prominently as Madam Simza Heron, a gypsy fortune teller who is seeking her brother who is involved somehow in Moriarty’s schemes.

Once again Ritchie uses excessive bullet-time slow-motion to portray Holmes’ excessive intellect, as he thinks through all his moves and countermoves. He does this in several one-on-one fights, and also in an extended artillery attack on Holmes and his friends. This makes the film a stylish action comedy, like its predecessor.

Yet, it is the acting and banter of the two male leads that carry the film. One scene in particular, the funniest in the film, highlights this. When Watson goes off with Mary by train for their honeymoon in a first-class carriage, Holmes dresses as a woman to surreptitiously protect them. Once he has tossed Mary from the train the movie really kicks into gear and the plot begins to slowly unfold.

That brings us to the quote that one of the characters declares: “People have an innate desire for conflict. So what you’re fighting is not me, but rather mankind. War, on an industrial scale, is inevitable. I’m just supplying the bullets and bandages.” The message posited is that conflict is part of human nature. Is that true?

Human nature, as intended from the beginning when God created humanity (Gen. 1), desires peace and relationships. God made us to enjoy him. He made woman to relate to man (Gen. 2). Peace prevailed; conflict was missing. So, the innate desire of mankind unspoiled is not conflict.

But humanity was spoiled when the serpent’s temptation was taken (Gen. 3). Sin entered the world. Mankind fell. And from that moment, conflict ensued: conflict between the man and woman, between ongoing generations, and between tribes and nations.

Conflict, though, is not an innate desire of mankind. The broken and sin-tainted nature of humanity veers towards the self away from God. Selfishness is the innate desire of humanity. And selfishness of one person vies against the selfishness of others. This is what leads to conflict. I want what I want, but you are in the way so I want to get you out of my way. Some choose to face this conflict with words, even with manipulations. Others use sheer power. Such conflict edges towards violence, and of that violence is war.

So, in some sense, the speaker is right: war is inevitable. And we see that across the globe, as we face ongoing military conflict. As of this writing, there is war in Libya, Yemem, Syria and Sudan, with other smaller conflicts in Africa and parts of the Middle East and Latin America. The solution is not more bullets, which lead inevitably to more bandages. The solution is a fundamental change of heart resulting from meeting Jesus Christ. He has predicted the omnipresence of war until the end-times (Matt. 24:6), but he also promises peace (Jn. 14:27), a peace that cannot be bettered in the world. Such peace passes all understanding (Phil. 4:7). This is a peace that will transform the world, making bullets and bandages unnecessary. But this omnipresent peace will only be fully realized when Jesus returns to usher in his everlasting kingdom. At that time the nations “will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” (Isa. 2:4).

Copyright©2012, Martin Baggs