Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
dir. Guy Ritchie
Release Date: Dec 16, 11
Guy Ritchie’s first stab at the legend of Arthur Conan Doyle’s intrepid detective Sherlock Holmes was a perfectly serviceable action film that mainly suffered from a lack of feeling anything like Doyle’s original legend. Holmes, originally, was not an adept action hero; he survived on uncanny powers of observation and a stunning level of wherewithal. Only when provoked would his accomplished brawling skills emerge, which Ritchie ramped up in order to make an action movie that would appeal to a modern-day audience. That his second installment Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows reaches thrills in its first ten minutes that the first film struggled to find in over two hours testifies to the perfected marriage of source material and latter-day trappings this time around, while taking Holmes and the steadfast Dr. Watson into exhilarating new territories.
The marked highlight of that first installment was the rapport between Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law as Holmes and Watson, a thread of banter at breakneck speeds that kept even the most banal moments moving. Here, both Watson’s exasperation and Holmes’ Aspergian manners have been ramped up to the point where the two are barely functional, a fact exacerbated by Watson’s coming wedding, which threatens to leave Holmes without not only his friend, but more importantly, his cleanup man. On top of the matrimonial drama, Holmes has to contend with the evil Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris), whose motives are shady but who Holmes mistrusts simply because his is an intellect that can match and even exceed Holmes’.
To say that the plot of Shadows is Byzantine does a disservice to what has to be the most plot-heavy Hollywood release in years. To Ritchie’s credit, he keeps things lean and coherent, even when at one point his duo is trapped in a German munitions factory, assisted by a travelling band of Gypsies while trying to outrun cannon fire while jumping onto a moving train. One of those travelers is Sim (Noomi Rapace, the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), a fortuneteller with ties to an underground anarchist network, who joins Holmes and Watson on their quest. That all the film’s disparate threads come together is inevitable (this is a movie about the power of process of elimination, after all), but the real joy lies in watching its machinations unspool deliberately.
From an opening that ties up a major loose end from the original in vicious fashion, to a game of chess that begins on a table and ends in a fistfight, with barely any real-time action (you’ll have to see it to believe), Shadows is a taut, blistering action film of high caliber. It’s also incredibly funny at points; Downey still goes for broke as the twitchy, sarcastic Holmes, and Law is not only an excellent foil but this time sets himself apart as a loyal sidekick who’s ready to blaze his own path that doesn’t involve his honeymoon being ruined by a gatling gun. The film’s real gem, though, is Harris, whose Moriarty is every bit as eccentric as Holmes, but in a way that exudes calm menace in every syllable. Their climactic exchange is devoutly faithful in spirit to Doyle’s vision, and every bit as riveting. In so many words, this is just a damned fine piece of action filmmaking, and at points a great one.