When I saw Guy Ritchie’s 2009 Sherlock Holmes, I was not impressed. The story started out in a way that piqued my interest, and then became confusing and convoluted (not to mention totally overly long). This cancelled out any joy I was feeling towards Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr.’s playful take on the famous detective and his sidekick. I walked out of the theater both over-stimulated and bored.
‘Twas not the case the second time around. I think Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, was a damn fine slice of early winter enjoyment. All the elements came together quite well for this installment, and the end result is success.
Ritchie’s method of directing (Fight Club, Snatch) is like stylized grittiness. It’s an approach that works well for his vision of this character, a kind of “Sherlock on ‘roids.” The scenes and sets are gorgeous. Dark, Victorian, dirty, and beautiful. There are tons of “breakdown” moments – anatomy of (insert awesome action sequence moment here), if you will. All the action slows down and the camera glides slowly around, showing you all the details you’d miss if you viewed the event in real time. “Anatomy of a cannon firing”, “anatomy of a right hook”, “anatomy of a bomb going off in a forest.” In the first Sherlock, I found this tactic to be slightly annoying, like somebody was trying way too hard and ripping off The Matrix, which is almost 12 years old. Here, it seemed really damn cool and since it wasn’t blatantly overused, I felt as though it served each section of the story.
Robert Downey Jr. has become tiresome to me, with frenetic energy and crazy eyes; it’s like he’s drank 100 Monster Energies, with some Fun Dips stirred in for good measure. He’s all sinew and vigor, and yeah, I think he’s a good actor, but there’s not a lot of difference for me between Tony Stark, Sherlock, and Kirk Lazarus. When all your characters are the same, I start to think that’s what you’re probably like in real life. Anyhow, he just makes me want to take a nap. Luckily, in these films, there’s a yin to his Energizer-yang.
I kind of love the character of Dr. Watson – the straight man, the one who cleans up the messes, a.k.a. – man of my dreams. I’ve NEVER had the hots for someone sporting a ‘stache, but there is a first time for everything and Jude Law WEARS that puppy, let me just tell you. His Watson is the calm reason to Holmes’ spontaneous action. These two have fantastic chemistry. It’s the heart that beats behind the film; without this vital aspect, the whole thing would be crap. I’ve not read the original stories, but I’m assuming that their banter and relationship is half the joy of reading the classic tales. Law and Downey Jr. have this down pat – they’re a joy to watch.
The plot takes the characters all over Europe, chasing Holmes’ arch-nemesis, Professor James Moriarty (played with elegant villainy by the always excellent Jared Harris), trying to foil his plot to start a war. It almost doesn’t matter what the movie is about; any Sherlock Holmes story is going to be a complex mystery that you just have to settle in and kind of go along for the ride for. You can’t try to figure out what’s going to happen because the game changes with every moment. This isn’t to say it’s not important (see: last film), things need to tie up nicely or make some semblance of sense, but the overall plot could basically be interchangeable with any other number of “evil genius trying to ruin everything” kinds of stories.
The supporting roles are all very enjoyable. Besides Harris, the legendary Stephen Fry is Holmes’ brother Mycroft, and he’s amusing and clever and reminded me that every time I see him, I really dig watching him. The ladies here are kind of afterthoughts, but decent ones, nonetheless. Rachel McAdams returns (briefly) and Noomi Rapace is introduced as a gypsy fortune-teller, intertwined in Moriarty’s schemes.
Between last year’s wonderful BBC/PBS production Sherlock, and Ritchie’s latest effort, I think I seriously might want to add the original stories to my Kindle. A Game of Shadows is fun, clever, and quick – a lovely holiday diversion to take your mind off all the shopping or awkward family shit you’ve probably got hanging over your head.