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Movie Review: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

December 16, 2011

Sherlock Holmes, action hero is at it again.

The year is 1895 and turn of the century London is murky, rainy and CGI’d as ever. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows picks up where the first film left off. Not much has changed since the conclusion of part one. Sherlock’s always faithful partner-in-fighting-crime, Watson (Jude Law), is nearing his wedding date and Sherlock is binge drinking formaldehyde and attempting to disappear (not metaphorically, he is working on a camouflage suit). Watson just wants to move forward in his life as a content married man, but Sherlock has other plans. He is, once again, on the case and while he could probably do it alone, it’s such fun when Watson comes along.

The case is an attempt to catch Holmes’ nemesis, Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris) in a diabolical plan that could ruin Western Civilization. Moriarty is keen on starting a war without anyone ever knowing his name, but our conspiracy theorist Holmes knows what he is up to and a cat and mouse game is begun between the two in a fight between good and evil.  To go deeper into the plot is unnecessary, every twist and turn is no more than an excuse to get these characters in fantastical situations and wait to see what they do to get out of them. The plot moves more like a Bond film than the first, but it is still basically just a heightened version of everything rewarding in part I. There are more disguises, more action scenes, more humor, more locations and even more argumentative repartee between dear ole Watson and the always witty Mr. Holmes.

Anyone who saw the first film, or even just a trailer should know that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s pipe-smoking, tweed hat wearing detective is nowhere to be found in director Guy Ritchie’s retelling of the turn of the century classic. This Sherlock is a quick-witted, drug-induced, paranoid who is more inclined to get into a brawl than go up to 221B Baker Street to contemplate a case. He could easily be considered a disgrace to the traditions of the mystery genre, as a whole, but it’d be a lie to say Robert Downey, Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes is not a pleasure to watch from start to finish.

Yes, the film is a amusing to watch as well, but it only works because Robert Downey, Jr. is in nearly every scene. His portrayal of Holmes is so charismatic and entertaining that the strengths of the film and his character are really one in the same. In fact, he is not so much playing Sherlock Holmes, but he has found a way to fit Sherlock Holmes into the persona that has become Robert Downey, Jr. Much like his role as Tony Stark in the Iron Man franchise, he takes the character and make it into his own so flawlessly that its tricky to tell where the actor begins and the role ends. In recent years, this has become common for Downey. His characters are an extension of himself: wise-cracking, overly confident, charmers that always know when to smile for the camera. He has fallen into his role of movie star and while this can quickly be looked at as a flaw to some, it is a title that fewer and fewer deserve in an industry that was once fueled with nothing but.

As previously mentioned Watson is with him every step of the way and while Downey steals nearly every scene he is in, the film wouldn’t work without Jude Law’s irritated Holmes rolling his eyes at Sherlock’s every move. The dynamic between them has always been one of sexual ambiguity, but in part two this is toyed with even more. No one would ever come out and say that Holmes and Watson are lovers, but this doesn’t stop Ritchie from making some subtle (and not so subtle) jokes about it throughout the film. Rachael McAdams’ feisty and manipulative Irene Adler makes a few appearances as well, but not for long. This is not a romance and there is certainly no time for lovers’ quarrels. All quarreling, actually, is exclusive to Watson and Holmes.

We do, however, get a few new characters: some that add to the film’s appeal and some that don’t. The two most significant additions being Noomi Rapace and Stephen Fry.

Rapace plays a gypsy woman named Simza Heron in search of her brother and while I secretly hoped she would speak a bit of pikey, the language Ritchie (as well as Brad Pitt) made famous in his previous film Snatch, she was nothing more than a a lackluster replacement to Rachael McAdams. Little more than a stereotype of the tough, sneaky, but loyal gypsy, if felt like she was there only to be a pretty face on the screen and maybe to engage in a few “women kick butt too” action sequences for good measure. She offers little more than that and as impressive as she was in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I was a bit disappointed at how expendable her character truly was.

Stephen Fry, however, has enough charisma for the both of them. Playing Sherlock’s quirky, jovial brother Mycroft, Fry falls into the role with an undeniable charm. He is there mostly for comedic effect, and Fry seems intent on attempting to steal every scene he is in (some of which include him wearing little more than a birthday suit and a grin). If Jude Law ever decides to drop out of the series, I think Fry could be an amiable replacement. I’m not sure that Sherlock could go on without his Watson, but Ritchie has altered everything else about the series so why stop now.

The film is not a perfect one, but it does exactly what it sets out to do. Equal parts comedy, mystery and action, it has a polished charm throughout. It is enjoyable not because it is innovative, but instead because you get exactly what you pay for. Two hours of thrills, laughs and pure escapism exist in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and sometimes that’s exactly what going to the movies is all about.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, and some drug usage. Directed by Guy Ritchie. Starring Robert Downey, Jr., Jude Law, Jared Harris, Rooney Mara and Stephen Fry.


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