Slo-Mo Fisticuffs Abound … But Where’s the Mystery?

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (December 16, 2011)     3/5

Directed by Guy Ritchie (Warner Bros. Pictures)

In contrast with literary devotees, I was quite intrigued by British action director Guy Ritchie’s reinvention of Sherlock Holmes, turning the world’s most observant detective into the Indiana Jones of the 19th-century, amidst a stylized, CGI-heavy backdrop of  smog-filled London. Yet Sherlock Holmes was far from a great film, and if it wasn’t for the continued greatness of Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law in A Game of Shadows, then this sequel to the 2009 smash could consider itself a victim of the Reichenbach Falls.

The revitalized bromance between Holmes (Downey) and Watson (Law) does provide some sort of emotional link, yet one that would be completely severed without the dry wit and presence of the performers. Ritchie emphasizes both the successes and flaws of the film’s predecessor, staging elaborate, kinetic action sequences with a camera that never stops to breathe. But luckily, there is also a glimpse of the spark within the original works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, as Holmes finds a fitting enemy in Professor Moriarty (Jarred Harris).

Meanwhile, Dr. Watson’s wedding day approaches. Yet the lucky lady (played by Kelly Reilly) will have to wait for the honeymoon, considering the devious professor is up to no good. After thwarting a bombing and intercepting a mysterious letter from lover/rival master of deceit, Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), Holmes tracks down the recipient, a gypsy played by Noomi Rapace, the star of the Swedish Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. This leads Holmes and Watson to Moriarty’s scheme of starting World War I, and owning the weapons when it does begin. The story is roughly based on the Doyle original, The Final Problem, and thrives when it dwells upon the relationship between Holmes and Watson as the latter chap approaches marriage, as well as the developing rivalry between Moriarty and the former. If only A Game of Shadows wasn’t so bloated with action and meandering dialogue, that it might actually offer some mystery amidst Holmes’ sly observations.

But as in Ritchie’s previous movie, the action does take precedent. And despite the fact that these sequences are bombastic and overdone, they are still marvelously entertaining. The cinematography by Philippe Rousselot captures every punch or bullet with momentous impact, used spectacularly in sequences such as the escape from a train, or from a weapons factory in Germany. However, it is the climatic face-off between Holmes and Moriarty in Switzerland that features equal brain and brawn, something the rest of the film is never quite able to accomplish. For the most part, the plot is very convoluted. Ritchie, using a screenplay by Kieran & Michele Mulroney, always seems to favor Holmes utilizing his mental capabilities to knock out an opponent than have any significance to the story, which if the filmmakers hoped to pay any respect to the source material, should at least have an ounce of mystery.

There are key observations that Holmes makes, but they are often not provided until the end of the film, giving the illusion that the script has been clever enough to fool us. What it does do is fill the duration of the movie with rambling scenes of quick dialogue that not only confuse, but rarely provide a successful segway into the action scenes that give the film a reason for existence. But when the plot twists do come, they provide the sense of satisfaction that has been missing for about two hours. Poor execution allows A Game of Shadows to stay one step ahead of its audience, a tool that it hopes will allow it to bypass convention. And although it does anything but, this Sherlock Holmes reminds us that trying to keep up will still be fun, regardless.

For the most part, this is pure escapism. Yet the irony comes forth in the fact that A Game of Shadows is at its best when approaching something deeper. The match of Downey and Law was inspired, and the film never ceases to remind us that this is the case. Yet I found the performance by Rapace to be far less engaging, in addition to the bizarre character of Holmes’ brother, Mycroft, played by Stephen Fry. The complications of Holmes’ relationship with Adler are also far understated. But the standoff between Holmes and Harris’ Moriarty is where the film truly ties the knot. If only it did more than touch upon the differing views the men may have of human nature, and how this affects the way that each utilizes an extraordinary mind. Fear of death and life after marriage are also relatable themes that the film touches upon, but is never able to fully explore with all it propels at viewers.

As in the first, A Game of Shadows is most interesting in its stylistic portrayal of England, especially in a time when war may become inevitable. The second Sherlock is fully satisfied with a climatic battle, one in the form of a chess match. I only wish the film had fulfilled its promise of resembling one.


1 Comment

  1. Although all of the freshness that was part of the first one is somewhat over-used, the flick is still a lot of fun with Downey Jr., Harris, and Law breathing life into each of their own characters. However, I was kind of disappointed by Noomi Rapace’s role as she just simply stands there and really doesn’t do anything. Regardless though, good review.

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