REALLY Rapid Review: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Guy Ritchie’s original Sherlock Holmes film was a fun riff on an old tale. It was a steampunked-up, riotous look into the shady depths of Victorian London. Robert Downey, Jr.’s Holmes is a pugilist, a devilish action hero, and an annoyingly eccentric strategist. The original film was at its best when plunging the audience into a dirty, depraved and exciting London criminal underground.
The sequel opens with Holmes in an increasingly manic state, self-absorbed as always, but determined to take down a master villain and ultimate intellectual foil: Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris). This time, world peace is on the line. It’s not a masterful stretch to imagine WWI starting twenty years earlier than expected, and it is on this idea that the plot of A Game of Shadows hinges. European heads of state have been precariously playing a giant game of Risk for hundreds of years. All it would take would be a well-placed impetus for a shuffling of power to begin.
The problem with A Game of Shadowslies not in the characters or the performances (Downey’s Holmes, Law’s Watson and Jared Harris’s Moriarty are all well-acted) but in the writing and pacing of the film. The action jumps from London to Germany to Switzerland in quick succession, as our team chases down Moriarty, who is portrayed as a smooth-talking mastermind, but in actuality is little more than a snappily dressed terrorist. It’s a disappointing and pedestrian route to take, this turning of one of literature’s most intriguing villains into little more than an action hero’s mustache-twirling bad guy.
Noomi Rapace’s gypsy sidekick has little to do besides try to keep up with the boys. Cut her out entirely and you wouldn’t miss a thing. Poor Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler fares even worse. After a sprightly banter with Holmes in the first film and the opening sequence of this one, her fate is confusingly presented with various interpretations, none of which seem satisfying for a woman who is supposed to be so clever.
Downey’s performance has no major faults – he plays what he is given with aplomb and little time to breathe. The heart of the story perhaps lies with Jude Law’s patient portrayal of the long-suffering Dr. Watson, who claims to just want a life of normality, but as the audience well knows, doth protest too much to be believed.
Overall, while the rotating and swirling action moves over the European continent, much of the brains and beauty of suspense and wit get lost along the way. A Game of Shadows is fun, fast-paced and visually interesting, but there’s not much beneath the surface that lingers behind.
Overall Grade: B –