Mark Reviews Movies

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS

2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Guy Ritchie

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Jared Harris, Stephen Fry, Paul Anderson, Kelly Reilly, Rachel McAdams

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, and some drug material)

Running Time: 2:09

Release Date: 12/16/11


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Review by Mark Dujsik | December 15, 2011

Bad people do bad thing merely "because they can," opines our intrepid detective in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, the sequel to the exuberant 2009 rededication of Arthur Conan Doyle's famous character. The "bad thing" here is a plot to start a world war, the likes of which no one has even had the chance to contemplate in 1891. Yes, it's as generic a scheme as could be imagined for any super-villain, but then again, we're not speaking of any old rogue but of Professor Moriarty, who—despite being a player in only two of Doyle's stories chronicling the adventures of the prototypical "consulting detective"—has come to be popularly known as the archetypical archnemesis.

Just as its predecessor can be granted some leeway for the action-hero status afforded to Sherlock Holmes simply because the character is named Sherlock Holmes (It's not too much of a stretch to imagine him a skilled combatant, if one only reads between the lines of Doyle as Holmes' ever-faithful assistant Dr. John Watson), there's an instinctive reaction to forgive screenwriters Michele and Kieran Mulroney for their broadly megalomaniacal interpretation of James Moriarty.

He is, after all, an even greater enigma just on a level of basic characterization than Holmes' extracurricular activities. If one is to take Moriarty to the extremes allowed of the other characters, a plan for global chaos for its own sake is about right.

Moriarty (Jared Harris) and the rationale (or, better, the lack thereof) of his plan are the best things about this sequel, which broadens the scope of the first film to have Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and Watson (Jude Law) traverse Europe by train, horse (Holmes is forced upon a miniature one, since he sees the larger ones as "dangerous at both ends and uncomfortable in the middle"), ship, and foot—fighting, outrunning bullets, and witnessing or causing general destruction as they go. The original film gave us a sense of camaraderie between the two old friends (bickering like a married couple that can't decide whether they want to call it quits or couldn't breathe another breath without the other) that bolstered the pulpy mystery underneath, but, this time around, the balance shifts. It's the plot playing the characters instead of vice versa.

It starts with promise as Watson returns to his old abode at 221B Baker Street the day before his wedding to Mary (Kelly Reilly). Holmes either out of sheer forgetfulness or denial has forgone his duty as best man to throw a stag party and instead brings Watson to a club where the detective meets with a gypsy fortuneteller named Simza (Noomi Rapace), whose brother is somehow involved in Moriarty's diabolical plans.

The most enlightening scene in the preceding film studied Holmes trapped in a restaurant, tortured by his inability to stop observing his surroundings. Now, faced with the reality of losing the only human being in the world (who isn't a career criminal) who can tolerate his "curse," we can't help but recall that scene as Holmes and Watson fight over the definition of marriage and what it will mean for Watson's life ("Answering to a woman," Holmes argues; "Being in a relationship," Watson parries).

Those concerns of character go out the window once Holmes interrupts Watson and Mary's train ride to their honeymoon destination to save the two of them from Moriarty's assassins. With his own life and that of his new wife on the line, Watson decides to join up with Holmes one final time to stop Moriarty once and for all.

The screenplay is heavy on incident and exposition. Holmes, Watson, and Simza travel from Paris, where a bomb hides a single rifle shot, to Germany, where a munitions plant has an abundance of modern weaponry, to Switzerland, where a castle on a cliff with a waterfall pouring down telegraphs the climactic scene to everyone with even a minor knowledge of Doyle's canon. There is a secret passageway, a slow-motion jaunt through a forest as bullets and mortar shells tear apart the trees, and a shootout on a speeding train. Details about Moriarty's plan, involving Sizma's brother's previous participation in an anarchist group (One has to wonder at what point an anarchist group becomes "too extreme") and a peace summit with Europe's leaders, come slowly.

Guy Ritchie returns to direct and once again takes advantage of Holmes' seemingly preternatural deductive abilities to toy around with the action sequences. He strategizes his moves in a fight before they occur, and while a pair of such moments humorously deflates the gimmick (After all the planning, a knife does the trick; it turns out Holmes isn't the only one who obsesses about pugilism), another stops the action dead in its tracks to explain why Watson staring down the barrel of a rifle isn't a threat.

The roving narrative, though, is the ultimate downfall Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. It's a shame, too, because when Holmes comes face to face with his archenemy in a trio of scenes, the movie has the focus of a laser. Even the tired metaphor of opponents using a chess game to relate to their actual plans works (The two eventually stop using the board altogether), and the sensation of seeing a revitalized take on a giant of modern literature returns, if only for a few minutes.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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