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Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)

January 1, 2012


written by: Kieran Mulroney and Michele Mulroney

produced by: Joel Silver, Lionel Wigram, Susan Downey & Dan Lin

directed by: Guy Ritchie

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

runtime: 129 min.

U.S. release date: December 16, 2011


Considering Guy Ritchie has returned as director for another “Sherlock Holmes” movie starring Robert Downey, Jr. as the iconic titular character, it’s safe to say that one should expect more of the same. I was adequately entertained by the first one (what I remember of it), once I got used to a few things. Like how this incarnation of Holmes is considered a hand-to-hand combat pro, or how distracting it is to see a mischievous Downey, Jr. as the consulting detective from 221B Baker Street, and also how Ritchie cranked up the volume in almost every way possible. Once I resigned myself to all that, it wasn’t too hard to enjoy the mainstream update from 2009. This sequel is indeed all that, and yet I did find myself enjoying it slightly more. It could be because I already knew the type of impish playfulness to expect or that it has a more interesting villain (despite being painted with a broad stroke). Regardless, I detect that however you felt about the first film may affect how you approach this new one – if you choose to approach it at all.

It is still 1891, where we left Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.) and his partner, Dr. John Watson (Jude Law), and thankfully there are no unnecessary introductions. After all, you know who you’re here for. “A Game of Shadows” finds Holmes even more manic, looking like he hasn’t bathed or washed his clothes since the last film. So be it. This is Downey, Jr. as Holmes, even further removing us from the way the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle creation has been depicted in the past.

After a brief encounter with his former paramour/professional thief, Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams, here for a cameo), we’re back to finding Holmes as a selfish and dejected lover, going on about Watson’s wedding,  just days away. Thankfully, there’s Professor Moriarty (a wicked Jared Harris), who was alluded to in the last movie, to save us from the fractured bromance, perpetuating some sleuthing – or rather instigate the action sequences. Holmes is looking into a series of unexplained murders and sudden bombings that point to his nefarious arch-nemesis. Since Holmes and his new bride, Mary (Kelly Reilly, also basically a cameo) are in harm’s way, he has no choice but to join Holmes in his investigative pursuit.



Along the way, they come across Simza (Noomi Rapace, the original “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) a knive-throwing Gypsy fortune-teller who becomes entangled in this mystery when it is revealed that the brother she is searching for has been held hostage by Moriarty. The trio experience numerous attempts on their lives pursuing Moriarty, as they are determined to prevent him from actions that will inevitably lead to World War I. With Holmes facing an opponent that is his equal in many ways, he must rely not only on his trusted Watson, but also on his greatest weapon – his mind – if he is to defeat Moriarty, even if it kills him.

As mentioned, Ritchie approaches the sequel with a similar mindset, bringing back the same look, tone, and wit, from the first film.  He reunites with two artists that, one again, contribute greatly to the atmosphere the audience is shown. Cinematographer Philippe Rousselot employs the same earthy blue and grey tones here, and has his hands full bringing back the “stop-and-slow” pre-fight vision that Holmes uses to anticipate his opponents moves in a combat scenario. That gimmick could’ve gotten old, but it’s still kind of cool to see how it all plays out. Also returning for the sequel is composer Hans Zimmer, who provides quite a bouncy waltz number that is integrated throughout the catchy and ominous score. Both of these men aide Ritchie well, providing just the right sound and visuals for the environment created for these characters to live in.

Just like before, Downey, Jr. and Law are a fine pair together, displaying fine timing best exemplified when we witness the clever interaction of their rapid-fire dialogue. At times, it’s still a little hard to not see these actors for who they are instead of who they’re acting as (mainly because they are so well-known), but their commitment to their roles compensates for all that. Rapace has a great look and fits just right in this world, but she really isn’t given a whole lot to do. If anything, her role and McAdams cameo tells us that these movies are very male-centric.



On that note, the other new cast member is a hilarious Stephen Fry as Holmes older brother, Mycroft, a more together gentlemen than his brother who turns out to be quite an asset. Mycroft was introduced in the Conan Doyle books, as was another character, Sebastian Moran (Paul Anderson) who appears here as Moriarty’s sharp-shooting aide. None of the supporting roles overshadow the sleuthing duo though, and contribute just enough variety and spice into Ritchie’s elaborately designed and fast-paced film.

“A Game of Shadows” is basically Holmes vs. Moriarty, and the main area it falls short is in not providing us with more details on the Moriarty’s motivations. He seems to have an exquisite mind, so why then is he so concerned with profiting from handing out these destructive weapons. Is it money or power or notoriety, he craves? It’s uncertain. Although Harris provides great menace to the role, the screenwriter miss an opportunity to flesh out the character more. The best scene between Holmes and Moriarty is a chess match near the Reichenbach waterfall in Switzerland (a famous location in one of Conan Doyle’s shorts), where we witness a formidable mental duel.

The sequel ends on a clever note, which hints at other Holmes stories to tell. I certainly have no problem with everyone involved returning, but it remains to be seen if Ritchie and crew can inject any freshness to the series. Surely, there’s enough source material to cull from, but fans should want more than just the expecting elementary proceedings.




RATING:  ***


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