Title: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Directed By: Guy Ritchie
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Jared Harris, Stephen Fry, Kelly Reilly, Rachel McAdams
Did you enjoy Sherlock Holmes? Odds are, your answer to that question will hold up for round two. Complicated plot, overly chatty characters, wicked action sequences, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows keeps your head spinning, but trumps its predecessor in the slightest by offering up a marginally more understandable scenario, keeping the banter to a minimum unless absolutely necessary and making the fight scenes all the more mesmerizing.
Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) is back and while he’s still very much on his game, there’s another player of comparable intellect – but someone with malicious intentions. When Holmes connects the dots between a number of curious and malevolent incidents including a bombing in Strasbourg and the death of an American steel tycoon, he’s lead straight to Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris).
Meanwhile, Dr. Watson (Jude Law) is enjoying some time with his wife-to-be, Mary (Kelly Reilly). While Holmes is generous enough to give the two the chance to wed, soon thereafter, he tosses poor Mary from a moving train (but with her safety in mind, of course) and travels on with Watson to take down Moriarty. With the help of a gypsy fortuneteller named Sim (Noomi Rapace), Holmes and Watson successfully put the pieces of this investigation together. The only problem is, Moriarty is always one step ahead in the game.
Multiply that introduction by three and you’ve got Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Okay, not literally, but director Guy Ritchie certainly doesn’t hold back when it comes to putting Holmes’ incredible perception to use. As you may recall from the first film, when danger approaches, Holmes identifies all of the elements and then, in slow motion, moves through the steps of the fight only to repeat the incident in real time. It’s a stellar sequence, but there’s only so many times that shtick can work, especially when in some instances, battles are replayed upwards of two times.
On the other hand, the story itself could benefit from a little repetition. Holmes’ mind may move fast enough to pick up all the pieces in an instant, but Game of Shadows is a constant game of catch-up for us common folk. The Strasbourg bombing is easy because we see that quite clearly, but the one in Vienna, the death of the steel magnate, the issues with the Indian cotton tycoon, and the demise of an opium trader? To be honest, without the help of the press notes, I never would have been able to put all of those pieces together. So, minus the post-viewing researching and rethinking, the plot details are a jumbled mess. Part of the fun of mysteries is getting to play along with the detective, but in the case of Sherlock Holmes, we’re merely trailing the hero and just taking his word for it. So, if you’re willing to take Holmes’ word for it, the franchise’s second installment can be a blast.
Ritchie is an absolute whiz when it comes to creating vibrant frames, particularly during the film’s action sequences. Sure, the slow motion trick gets a bit repetitive, but the director has enough of a handle on the technique to at least use it in a way that enhances the experience, particularly during an intense assault as Holmes and co. dash through a snowy forest. The design teams also deserve a great deal of credit as part of Ritchie’s visual success comes from incredibly detailed set design and costume work.
On the acting front, Sherlock Holmes seems to be a walk in the park for both Downey and Law. Similar to the first, the two share an incredible degree of chemistry and absolutely own these characters through and through. Stephen Fry makes for an amusing addition as Holmes’ brother, Mycroft, who spends much of his on-screen time with the testy albeit likable Mary Watson. Rachel McAdams’ inclusion as Irene Adler is cameo-sized this time around, but she certainly manages to make an impression. As for the new leading lady, Noomi Rapace should have no trouble at all making a name for herself and then maintaining it in Hollywood. Her first English-speaking role, Rapace manages to win big with a character that’s not particularly well developed.
As good as Rapace is, the standout here is most certainly Jared Harris. On the outside he looks like a rather nurturing professor, but with a flip of the switch, Harris doesn’t just unveil Moriarty’s evil side, he devours you with it. And the incredible part is, Moriarty isn’t a particularly violent villain. His crimes are carried out through a series of intricately planned steps and he’s left to work with what could have been dull blocks of dialogue. Harris takes that text and infuses every word with a degree of malice, making them far more terrifying than any psychical weapon. (But, of course, his cronies are armed with those, too.) However, Harris does get the chance to show off some battle skills and when he does, it makes for some of the film’s most memorable moments.
Is Sherlock Holmes my type of movie? No way. But, does that mean I can deny the fact that it’s a generally well made film and relatively entertaining? Of course not. Thanks to a faster pace, a slightly clearer plot and some unforgettable imagery, A Game of Shadows tops the 2009 film and becomes something that is selectively recommendable.