Tuesday, December 20, 2011

"Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows"

Directed by Guy Ritchie, written by Michele Mulroney & Kieran Mulroney, based on characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, starring Robert Downey, Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, and Jared Harris - Rated PG-13

A little light on the mystery, but the action more than makes up for it.

Sherlock Holmes as an action star seemed to be a strange idea before director Guy Ritchie teamed up with Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law to make Sherlock Holmes a couple years ago.  Now, with Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Ritchie solidifies Downey and Law as a bona fide buddy-action duo.  Granted, this sequel isn’t high art, but in a season filled with high profile releases and Oscar hopefuls, it makes for fun escapism. 

A Game of Shadows (which is an unfortunately bland subtitle) picks up where the original left off with Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) aiding the evil Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) while Holmes tries to stop them.  In the last film, the devastation was aimed solely at England; this time, all of Europe is at stake as Moriarty attempts to start a world war.  Basically, the stakes are higher and much more violent. 
While this film is primarily an action adventure there is still a bit of mystery to it.  Much like the first film, most of the characters, and the audience, are left in the dark for most of the running time.  There are clues scattered within the film, but it’s not like there is a mystery that the audience can solve on its own.  That’s kind of the point, of course, as Holmes is the only one who should be able to piece everything together.  It’s still a bit fun to keep your eyes on every inch of the screen, hoping to figure things out. 
Sherlock Holmes isn’t really a mystery film, though.  Guy Ritchie keeps the franchise in stylized-action mode and the film is more memorable for it.  There’s something to be said for a director who is willing to show action in a continuous take rather than edit it to the point of incoherence.  Not only does Ritchie keep the action in single shots, but he also slows things down to a crawl and has Holmes narrate what is happening.  Those predictive fight scenes seemed a little gimmicky in the first film, but the gimmick is played with enough times to make it amusing throughout in the sequel.  Aside from the fight scenes, other action set pieces are bigger and better than the original as well.  A lengthy mortar attack/shootout in a wooded area is among one of the best action sequences of the year.  It is an audio/visual attack on the senses, and that is a compliment. 
Action cannot completely carry a movie like this, however.  The core of the film rests on the chemistry between Downey, Jr. and Law.  As Holmes and Watson, they seem entirely natural bickering at each other like an old married couple, a dynamic that is not lost on the filmmakers as they put Holmes and Watson in plenty of thinly veiled homoerotic situations.  The joke does get a bit tiring by the end, but the actors make it work and, more importantly, they make the film fun.  Although the film does venture a bit too far on the goofy side here and there.
 In fact, the tone of the movie is decidedly lighter than the first film, even though the stakes are so dire.  The first film dealt with black magic and took place entirely in gloomy London.  A Game of Shadows features a bit more globe-trotting and there’s no magic, just artillery.  Jared Harris’s performance as Moriarty keeps things sinister enough, though.  Moriarty won’t go down as an iconic villain or anything, but Harris does make for a creepy, cold, methodical bad guy. 
A Game of Shadows could have surpassed the original film if the scope hadn’t been enlarged to include so many new characters.  Noomi Rapace is almost completely unnecessary as a gypsy fortune teller searching for her missing anarchist brother.  And Stephen Fry makes a painfully unfunny appearance as Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock’s boring, cartoonish brother.  If more characters were needed to join the journey, why not just go with McAdams and Eddie Marsan from the original?  Better yet, just make it a Holmes/Watson adventure.  The third wheel is not needed and it makes the film a bit too long. 
Faults aside, Sherlock Holmes is still a very entertaining film and more sequels would be a welcome experience around the holidays every couple of years.  The film doesn’t aspire to be anything more than a good time with some impressive action sequences.  Holmes and Watson don’t solve an amazing mystery for the ages, but they are a lot of fun for a couple hours.
Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)

The infusion of technology gives the film an interesting style, even though it sometimes seems like the film takes place in an alternate reality rather than the past.  Who cares, though? 
The gypsy stuff was kind of unnecessary.  Scratch that, it was completely unnecessary.  Ritchie mined all the laughs there were to get from gypsies in Snatch.  Really wish they would have just had McAdams go along on the journey.  That way the whole gypsy subplot could be removed and the film could be a bit shorter. 
Is it just me, or was Rapace's only noticeable because she seemed to be eating in nearly every scene?  I found it distracting and odd.
Kind of wished they would have left Holmes dead at the end, though that would go against the light tone of the film.  It would be nice for a series to have a definitive end before it wears out its welcome and/or is rebooted.  I suppose there's always hope that Nolan kills off Batman next summer... 

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