5-Word 365 #364 – Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows

Golly, we’re getting pretty close to the finish line here folks. For the newer arrivals among you, this site was running before this 365 days of reviews nonsense started and it will continue to run afterwards, but there are going to be some changes. For one thing, I won’t be posting every day (at least not while I still have a day job!) and there are a few possible regular features I might be trying out over the coming months. I’m not gonna give away too much yet, but stay tuned.

First though, I need to get cracking with today’s flick.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadowsgame-of-shadows-poster

Needed more Rapace and McAdams

Holmes and Watson find themselves up against the most fearsome adversary imaginable in a case that takes them from London all the way to Switzerland, and that takes all of Europe to the very brink of war… (Banter ensues.)

This sequel reunites just about everyone from the 2009 film with a few new additions to keep things fresh. Taking some inspiration from one of the most famous of Sir Arthur’s stories (The Final Problem) it sees the great detective go toe to toe with Professor Moriarty, whose presence was teased in the earlier movie. On the surface, A Game of Shadows is a rollicking, old-fashioned adventure story with plenty to keep everyone amused, but all the flash and banter barely manages to paper over a few cracks in the walls.

As before, Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law are ideal together as Holmes and Watson. The palpable chemistry they share is easily the best thing about this burgeoning franchise. The scenes they share literally crackle with energy and fun and joie de vivre. So much so, in fact, that a lot of the other moments suffer somewhat in comparison. The exceptions to this caveat are Holmes and Moriarty’s occasional meetings. Although he may not be fully aware of the plan, Holmes knows who the bad guy is before the film even starts. Moriarty was the proto-Bond villain; a man of wealth and taste hiding in plain sight. A man whose genius had been devoted to villainy and his own enrichment, while Holmes’ had been devoted to finding the truth. The screenplay by husband and wife team Kieran and Michelle Mulroney pays a lot of attention to the notion of Holmes and Moriarty as mirrors of each other, both showing what the other could have been if only for slightly different motivations. Jared Harris plays Moriarty with barely contained glee, matching Downey’s more exuberant style with an academic restraint, though he does have one or two chances to really cut loose.

I'm just gonna let this one slide.

I’m just gonna let this one slide.

Despite these three fantastic lead roles, the flick is a bit less generous when it comes to the supporting players. Eddie Marsan as fan favourite Lestrade is reduced to a one-scene cameo, and the film’s entire female contingent feels shortchanged. Rachel McAdams makes a return appearance as Irene Adler, only to be summarily dispatched before the opening credits. Her replacement—Noomi Rapace as Simza, a gypsy fortune teller with a family connection to Moriarty’s scheme—gets a dynamic introduction but then vanishes for a hefty chunk of running time. When she does reappear, she gets practically nothing in the way of development. Although it undoubtedly brought her to a larger audience after her portrayal of Lisbeth in the original Dragon Tattoo trilogy, this part feels like a waste of such a talented actress. A returning Kelly Reilly is treated a little better as the new Mrs Watson, although she too receives short shrift after Holmes hijacks her and John’s honeymoon, literally throwing her from a moving train and whisking the groom off to Paris (subtext alert!). In the midst of all this bromancing and tomfoolery, it falls to the quintessential Englishman Sir Stephen Fry to inject some much-needed dismissive sarcasm as “Sherly”‘s brother Mycroft, star of cinema’s most hilariously awkward nude scene since Paul Giamatti was accosted by M.C. Gainey in Sideways.

Guy Ritchie is working with much larger budgets and scope than he did in the Lock, Stock and Snatch days, but it seems that he is still telling the same kind of stories: bickering old friends getting caught up in manic adventures in the London criminal underworld. I’ll say this though, the man plays to his strengths. Zach Snyder gets a lot of grief in certain quarters for being style over substance, particularly when he uses his favourite speed-ramping trick, but people forget that Ritchie was doing that shit back in the nineties, and is still using it now. The “Holmesavision” concept is pressed back into service, but given a couple of neat subversions to keep both you and Holmes guessing, and some of the more extravagant action scenes get some super groovy, super slo-mo assistance. One standout being the sequence where our heroes are running through a forest while taking artillery fire. There is nothing quite like seeing a tree being splintered by a 10lb shell just inches from the leading man’s head.

Um, where did Watson go? And why is Holmes suddenly looking so content?

Um, where did Watson go? And why is Holmes suddenly looking so content?

Speaking of which, the stunts and special effects work are uniformly marvelous. There were moments in the first flick when things took on an obviously digital sheen, but that problem appears to have been resolved in the intervening years. The CG backdrops of period London are some of the best I’ve seen. Hans Zimmer’s Roma-inspired score matches the playful tone of the action perfectly, particularly in the frenetic fight sequence in and around Watson’s stag party.

The timing of this franchise against the BBC’s universally adored modern adaptation means that both will be unfairly measured against the other, but I reckon there is more than enough room for both. We are lucky to have two such deftly handled interpretations of this fantastic source material.

Go ahead, punk. Make my day.

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