Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)
Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Written by: Arthur Conan Doyle, Kieran Mulroney, Michele Mulroney
Starring: Jared Harris, Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Paul Anderson, Rachel McAdams, Robert Downey Jr, Stephen Fry
SHERLOCK HOMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS
DIRECTED BY: Guy Ritchie
WRITTEN BY: Michele Mulroney, Keiron Mulroney
STARRING: Robert Downey Jnr, Jude Law, Jared Harris, Noomi Rapace
RUNNING TIME: 128 mins
DISTRIBUTED BY: Warner Bros
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Sherlock Holmes encounters again Irene Adler, a female mistress of crime who he has a love/hate relationship with, and dispatches four men following them. A series of unrelated crimes is taking place all over Europe, and Sherlock Holmes believes them all to be the work of a certain Professor Moriarty, a criminal mastermind just as smart as Holmes. Holmes foils Moriarty’s latest assassination attempt, and the Professor retaliates by poisoning Irene, whose feelings for Holmes have compromised her usefulness. Meanwhile it is Dr Watson’s stag do, and Holmes takes him out with his brother Mycroft, where it transpires that he hasn’t invited any of Watson’s friends. Holmes is actually there to foil another murder attempt by Moriarty, and thereby causes Watson, who has supposedly given up sleuthing, and his wife Mary to be in considerable danger……
Two years ago, Sherlock Holmes was one of the most pleasant surprises of the year. The combination of an apparent ‘re-imagining’ of the World’s Greatest Detective as a Victorian action hero, and a director whose only good films were his first two, didn’t seem promising and actually seemed something that would be something near to an abomination to this Holmes fan. Well, it was very decent entertainment, and certainly didn’t insult Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, though many ‘purists’ disagreed. To me it was still very ‘Holmesian’, and anyway, not all interpretations of source material have to be the same, especially the adventures of a character like Holmes, which have been a staple of cinema and TV entertainment almost since cinema and TV began. As long as the essence is there, I don’t think it matters too much, and the essence of the orginal Holmes was certainly in it in my opinion. I couldn’t wait for a sequel, and now here it is. It’s basically the same thing, but bigger and better, resulting in one of the most sheerly entertaining popcorn movies of the year. The chief instruction seems to have been, “have MORE of everything”. Therefore you have more fighting where Holmes displays his martial arts expertise, more banter between Holmes and Watson, more explosions, you get the picture. And, for the most part, it works wonderfully.
Getting into the action straight away, this episode opens with a brawl that is sadly shot in the way most fight scenes are shot these days i.e. you can’t see what the hell is going on due to the way it is filmed. Not promising at all, but never mind, the film hurtles headlong into its story, rarely stopping for breath, and delivering twice the action of the first movie. A lengthy sequence that climaxes with a flight in a wood where Holmes, Watson and their companions are being bombarded by military artillery is fantastic stuff, the best kind of movie action; it’s ridiculous, it’s unrealistic but it gives you that giddy lift and you just don’t want it to end. This and some other scenes employ some slow motion, which seems to have irritated many, but I loved it, partly because I could see certain things very clearly, which is the opposite of the norm at the moment. Guy Ritchie is no Sam Peckinpah or John Woo, so the slow motion perhaps seems shoehorned in at times, but it certainly doesn’t lessen the excitement.
As before, Ritchie likes to visualise Holmes thinking about something before he does it, but takes it much further in this movie. In one quite audacious and fantastic set piece on a train, the director, for a minute or so, appears to employ virtually every cinematic technique in showing how Holmes has worked out what is going on and how to stop it. Ritchie has rarely been an innovative filmmaker, often being happiest borrowing things from others, but he did make the disastrous Revolver, an utter mess if ever there was one. Thinking about that particular movie now as I write, and relating to Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows, it seems more than anything else to have a really brave, daring effort that just didn’t work, and that some of that experimentation which Ritchie clearly has inside him has found its way into his latest film, in which it works much better. You actually do get a better idea of how Holmes’ mind works. Ritchie also paces his film perfectly and manages the sprawling, globetrotting plot very skilfully, never letting it slow down. Some have said that the characters of Mycroft, Holmes’ brother, and the gypsy woman Simza Heron are unnecessary in the film. I disagree; Mycroft plays pretty much the same role as he does in the original stories, while in Simza it’s nice to have a female participant in the adventure undertaken by our heroes who doesn’t become a love interest for one of them.
Sadly the script in some ways lets things down somewhat. While the comic banter between the two leads is as fun as ever, sometimes very sharp indeed, and brave enough to hint about the supposed homosexual elements which some see in their relationship, the plot is rather badly constructed. There is not enough of Holmes picking up on various clues as he sees them; instead, we have too many scenes of Holmes telling of clues he picked on earlier, via flashback shots, and some of these clues are hardly seen in the earlier scenes, so it results in a kind of cheating. A good example is Holmes mentioning two identical dwarves, yet the scene they were in earlier hardly had them barely seen and hardly registering as identical dwarves. The climactic showdown, which is one of the few elements in the film directly influenced by Conan Doyle, is also something of a damp squib, but then I suppose the real climax is before, a truly clever and brilliant scene where Holmes plays a symbolic chess game with Moriarty while Watson does the puzzle solving and tries to stop a dreadful crime happening, in a sense having Holmes in two places at once. The sequence is incredibly suspenseful and works superbly.
Downey Jnr is again terrific; notice the way he is always glancing around, eyes picking up everything, wherever he goes, and Jude Law is again very good; you know that Watson loves his adventures with Holmes, however much it disrupts his personal life! I can’t quite understand why Law has decided to start acting in these films; normally I consider him one of the worst performers around. Jared Harris is the best Moriarty after George Zucco; quite restrained in his egomania and megalomania, but letting you know it’s there. Many of the movie’s best bits just have Holmes and Moriarty matching wits with each other; they cackle with understated tension and a certain kind of humour. Stephen Fry just plays Stephen Fry but it’s a revelation to see original Dragon Tattoo Girl Noomi Rapace without all that makeup; she’s quite lovely on the eye! Hans Zimmer’s score, which at one point directly copies Ennio Morricone’s theme from Two Mules For Sister Sara, makes much less use of the catchy cimbalom theme of the first movie and sadly resorts at times to the usual Pirates Of The Caribbean copying, though he handles a sequence towards the end very well, with an orchestral waltz becoming more discordant and synth-heavy as things get more and more tense. Mostly this is a thoroughly entertaining, clever and satisfying ride whose sheer drive will probably ensure that its narrative problems are not too problematic. Purists be damned, I want more of these!!!