Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011) Movie Review

Sherlock Holmes A Game Of Shadows

Title: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Year: 2011
Genre: Action/Adventure/Crime
Play time: 2h 9min
Director: Guy Ritchie
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Stephen Fry, Jared Harris, Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows – Endless String of Big Budget Sequels

The closest analogue to this weird new Sherlock Holmes franchise we seem to have gotten ourselves into is probably Pirates of the Caribbean. Both offer insouciant, deeply weird attacks on a set of old archetypes, with convoluted plots reliably overshadowed by vampy performances by shrewd, high-profile leading men. Both debuted delightfully, assuring an endless string of glossy big-budget sequels. Pirates promptly devolved into plodding mediocrity, then insufferable tedium. Sherlock… well, it may be too soon to say.

Arbitrary Plot & Non Characteristic Sherlock Scenes

This first sequel, at least, is not dire. I’ve a few bones to pick with Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, but the flick moves – and not on autopilot, either.  Like its predecessor, it leans heavily on not-very-Holmes-ian fight scenes, chases and explosions, but it also has a story that hangs together and that it works hard to propel through a series of spectacular Europe-hopping set pieces. The plot initially seemed kind of arbitrary to me, giving the first act a shaky, what-am-I-watching-here-exactly feel – something about anarchists and explosions and it sure seems like Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) is involved somehow – but the film really does care about tying everything together, and I think that it works, finally. In its loud, irreverent way, this Sherlock Holmes puts as much effort into its mysteries as the Conan Doyle stories on which it’s ever-so-loosely based.

Robert Downey Jr. Is Up For the Job as Sherlock?

Robert Downey Jr. still plays Holmes as a wisecracking, sardonic scamp, with a contentious love-hate relationship with his partner Dr. Watson (Jude Law). The charm of this part of the formula has worn off some: there’s a great deal of fast-paced banter in A Game of Shadows, but depressingly little is actually said, and it often seems like the characters are killing time. The better half of the film’s wit is visual – loved the moment when a key character collapses off-screen while the camera remains trained on Moriarty, genteelly poking at his food with a fork, or the one where someone brings a tank cannon to a gunfight.

This is no doubt a better use for Guy Ritchie’s visual sense than garbage like Revolver and Rock ‘n Rolla. What once seemed like slapdash, arbitrary kineticism here seems deliberate and even considered. There’s a late-film chase scene through a forest that is almost visionary in its construction, stopping and starting and turning on a dime to build a genuine, exhilarating rhythm of the kind seldom seen in big studio pictures. Even if you’ve lost interest in the screenplay by the time it comes around, the sequence will make you sit up and pay attention. Ritchie is becoming a sort of more painterly Tony Scott; it suits him.

Going Bigger & Louder in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

For all the film’s qualities, I wasn’t quite sold on it until the climactic scenes, which have a weird grandeur leavened by its roguish sense of humor. It takes a while to get moving and sometimes seems forced, like Ritchie and his cast were constantly responding to directives to go bigger! Louder! More elaborate! (A few explosions too many, I think.) And any real resemblance to the characters as we once knew them is forever lost. But as big Christmas tentpoles go A Game of Shadows, like its predecessor, is pretty good: handsome, thought-through, and constructed with uncommon craft and care.

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