Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Today’s movie is Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Director Guy Ritchie’s second take on the world’s most famous consulting detective sees Robert Downey, Jr. returning to the role along side Jude Law as Dr. Watson, this time to take on their greatest foe, Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris).
I saw the 2009’s Sherlock Holmes while it was still in theaters, and while I enjoyed it, I suppose that it’s telling that I didn’t feel compelled to catch the sequel until it became available on HBO. Having now seen the film, I’d say that it neatly fit the expectations illustrated by that decision.
Downey’s Holmes is much less the intellectual master of deductive reasoning than he is a pistol-packing man of action, but you know that going in. This incarnation of the franchise is always going to be a somewhat of a dumbed-down action-packed version of Arthur Conan-Doyle’s mythos. We are talking about tent-pole blockbusters here after all. What I was disappointed with was that this second film seemed to be significantly dumber than it needed to be.
I’ll take, hell, I’ll enjoy a good action sequence as much as the next mainstream movie-goer, but at the end of the day a movie with “Sherlock Holmes” in the title should still be a mystery movie. While I suppose there is a mystery at the heart of A Game of Shadows it’s barely there. For the most part the plot is a loose series of contrivances that serve to set up the next action set piece.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t things to like in this film. The action scenes really are spectacular. Sure slow-motion is a bit over-used, but it definitely is fun to look at. Particularly in a beautiful scene where our heroes must run through the woods to escape some well armed foes.
The best thing about the movie is definitely the rapport between Holmes and Watson. It is intended to be the heart of the film, and it accomplishes this goal in spades. Downey and Law bring a genuine sense of camaraderie that resonates on screen. The film is at its best when they’re together. Rachel McAdams is also fantastic exuding a ton of chemistry with Holmes in her far too brief appearance as Irene Adler. Unfortunately, she’s so good, and she appears in the film at such an early point, that I really felt distinctly aware of her absence from the rest of the film.
I was less entertained by a couple of the other supporting performances in the film. I’m a fan of both Jared Harris and Stephen Fry, but I can’t say I enjoyed what they did here. Harris’ Moriarty lacks any feeling of menace; he doesn’t come across as a real threat, not on the level required by a film like this. To be true his performance is both subtle and understated. This might work well for Moriarty in another version of the franchise, perhaps one where we’re left to wonder who his character is, and whether or not he’s a villain. Of course, this is not a subtle movie. We’re told right off the bat that he’s the arch-villain; Holmes seems to know this without doing any detective work whatsoever. If any version of Sherlock Holmes ever called for an over-the-top moustache-twirling maniacal version of Professor Moriarty it’d be this one. Instead we get a quite schemer; that’s quite out of place.
The same goes for Fry as Mycroft Holmes. I think in another production Fry could be a fantastic Mycroft, but not here. Fry isn’t a great physical match for Downey, and the screenplay doesn’t do him any favors. He’s essentially reduced to one part comic-relief, and two parts Mister Exposition.
Overall, I suppose this is a passable movie, but it’s certainly nothing special. I’d be complimenting the film’s story if I were to call it weak, but there’s probably just enough good to outweigh the bad. The dynamic pairing of Downey and Law are fantastic, and certainly compensate for the misused Fry and Harris. Meanwhile, Noomi Rapace is good as gypsy/token girl Simza, though she’s no substitute from the painfully absent Irene Adler. The detective story is both simple and largely non-existent, but the action sequences are fun, and possess a certain sense of cinematic grandeur. When I add it all up I’m left to conclude that Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is, by the thinnest of margins, Worth Seeing.