Review: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
PLOT: The game is afoot for Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and his sidekick Dr. Watson (Jude Law) when they run up against the evil genius Moriarty (Jared Harris)- who threatens to plunge Europe into war with his nefarious scheme.
REVIEW: Confession time. Two years ago, when the first SHERLOCK HOLMES hit theatres, I totally got caught up with the hype, and gave the film a rave review upon its release- even going so far as to put it on my top 10 of the year. It IS a good film, but it's just that, GOOD, and not quite the extravaganza I might have led readers to believe. Still, I did quite enjoy it, mostly for Robert Downey Jr's energetic re-imagining of the titular hero, and I've been looking forward to the sequel.
I'm happy to say that for the most part, SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS is just about as good as the first film. Everything that made the last one so entertaining is still here- namely Downey Jr., energetic performance- which manages to be both comedic and heroic. Like the last film, Downey Jr., has gotten himself into great shape, and the fights that made the first SHERLOCK such a treat are still here. Within seconds of it starting, we're plunged into a battle between Holmes and a bunch of heavily armed adversaries, and Ritchie, using the trademark Holmes powers of deduction make these battles a lot of fun to watch.
Equally good is Jude Law, for whom the last SHERLOCK was the key to a major comeback after a few lean years. Now that Law's gotten a bit older and is a wee bit less pretty (it's no coincidence most of the really good films he's done, namely ROAD TO PERDITION and COLD MOUNTAIN downplayed his looks), he's gained a little heft as an action hero. Most important, his bromantic chemistry with Downey is spot-on, and the two make a fun pair of action heroes. Also making a welcome return is Hans Zimmer, who once again contributes a memorably heroic score which, this time around, features a few cool nods to John Barry's Bond scores (similar to his score to INCEPTION), and even incorporates the Ennio Morricone theme for the Clint Eastwood western, TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA.
A GAME OF SHADOWS' strongest addition to the franchise is the phenomenal casting of Jared Harris (son of the late Richard) as Holmes' arch-nemesis Moriarty. Harris is fantastic, and makes a damn near iconic Moriarty, the one villain who's perhaps even more brilliant than Holmes. His verbal parrying with Downey is excellent, and takes care of my one chief complaint about the first film: the lack of a strong villain.
Another wonderful addition to the franchise is Stephen Fry as Holmes' wayward older brother Mycroft, who- in a bit of business I can't recall from the Arthur Conan Doyle books, has a fondness for holding court while nude. Fry fits right into the madcap, but never zany, Holmes-world that director Guy Ritchie has created, and given the audience's laughter every time he was on-screen, I assume he's a shoo-in for a sequel if one happens (depending on the box-office of course).
As great as the additions of Harris and Fry are, the same cannot be said of Noomi Rapace. Her performance here is utterly lifeless, as the extraneous gypsy con-woman, who's drawn into Holmes and Watson's adventure. I suppose she was added to give the film some sex appeal, but she really phones it in- which is a real shock to me, as she was brilliant as Salander in the Swedish versions of the Stieg Larsson THE GIRL... series. Compare her to Rachel McAdams, who recreates her role as Irene Adler from the first film and you can see a major difference, as McAdams brings the type of energy to the proceedings a big-budget extravaganza like this needs. You can't play something like this dead-serious, as Rapace does, as it clashes (badly) with the rest of the cast, all of whom seem to be having fun (I actually would have preferred more screen-time for Kelly Reilly as Watson's wife, who seems more game for this kind of ride).
In addition to Rapace, the film has a few other problems. At 130 minutes, the film feels a shade long, and drags a little more than the first film. If anything, maybe it's loaded with TOO MUCH action as the pyrotechnics got a little numbing after awhile- especially the overuse of slow-mo in one of the big set pieces (although it does distinguish the scene somewhat). Still, I appreciate that this is the rare action film that features good old-fashioned hand-to-hand combat, explosions, and gunfights rather than loads of CGI (it's certainly used, but not as blatantly as in other blockbusters). There are a couple really nifty set pieces, including an extended action scene aboard a train, which features a cross-dressing Holmes intruding on Watson's honeymoon, and a good final showdown between Holmes and Moriarty taking place over a game of chess (at a Swiss mountainside hideaway that would have been at home in a Bond film).
While it's not quite as fresh as the first film felt (mainly due to it being Downey's first real action role other than IRON MAN), it's still a good romp, and well worth seeing over the holidays. While BBC's SHERLOCK is probably more in-line with what Conan Doyle would have envisioned for the character, Guy Ritchie and Downey Jr., have crafted a pretty nifty variation of their own. I'm certainly game for more.
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