Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
12A / 2011 / Action Adventure /
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Jared Harris
Screenplay: Michele & Kieran Mulroney, Arthur Conan Doyle (characters) / Director: Guy Ritchie
Plot: With Dr. Watson (Law) soon to be married and thus trying to distance himself from his friend’s oft insane genius, Sherlock Holmes (Downey Jr.) consoles himself by doing what he does best: ignoring everything else around him in the pursuit of fighting for justice. This time, he meets his match in the nefarious Professor James Moriarty (Harris), who is at the centre of a criminal conspiracy that could bring down the whole of Europe.
Prior to its release at the end of 2009, the filmmakers were readily admitting that they were nervous about Sherlock Holmes – not least of all, Guy Richie himself. In addition to going up against a well-established (and, more importantly, well-liked) TV adaptation from the BBC, Richie was also having to cope with severe backlash from Conan Doyle fans before the film had even graced the inside of a cinema. Audiences were pretty livid upon seeing the first trailer: how is it that such a well-to-do, smartly presented and most calculating of detectives – who is also known for going about his work in a calm and collective manner – could have lowered and debased himself to a degree where he needs to engage his enemies with fisticuffs, and attend fight clubs during rare periods of downtime? Needless to say it was, at the time, considered blasphemous towards the author’s legacy, as well as being further proof that Hollywood is no longer capable of touching a pre-established property, without completely obliterating it.
Fast forward to February 2010, and the box office receipts were enough to indicate to the filmmakers that they had cottoned on to a winning formula. Audiences embraced the techno-noir pastiche setting of 1890’s London, as well as the fact that Holmes never simply fought for the sake of it. Instead, using all his cunning and precision of thought to explain – in a manner that only Homes could – how he would take down his adversaries.
Confident in what they have, it is reassuring to note that, with A Game Of Shadows, absolutely nothing has changed (after all, why fix something that isn’t broken?). For the audience this is great, because they now know what’s in the Holmes-Richie melting pot, and that they are going to get plenty of it. There is a bit more globe-trotting this time round, which, in addition to London, takes in Paris and Switzerland as well; but the overall flavour of the film is still the same as before. So too is the comically scathing, cerebral, banter-swapping relationship between the two leads. If anything, Holmes turns it up a notch in response to what he would consider to be Watson’s abandonment of their relationship, in favour of that ghastly thing called marriage instead. In this regard, the film is every bit the joyful romp that we have come to expect.
The problem is, that the filmmakers (and especially the screenwriters) have seemingly let that confidence run away with them when constructing the narrative this time around. Trepidation whilst making the first film necessitated that, in the event of the spectacle being too unwieldy for people to handle, there needed to be a storyline that was both easy enough to understand, and engaging enough to entertain. Here, there is none of that. Instead, we are given a web (literally on Holmes’ wall) of intrigue (supposedly) and conspiracy concerning robberies, assassinations and explosions, that revolve around one Professor Moriarty, whom Holmes has had dealings with previously (although, we are never really told how and why). Much of the investigation has already gotten underway before the film has even started, and when we do come on board, we are quick to find that Holmes is tracking his old flame, Irene Adler, who has a hand to play in it all. Trouble is, she comes and goes quicker than the blink of an eye.
Other newcomers are also paid as much of a disservice for their whys and wherefores as to their involvement – in the whole film itself, let alone the main conspiracy (if McAdams’ Adler is the table decoration, consider Noomi Rapace’s Sim as the crockery, along with Holmes and Watson as the main course). Admittedly, Jared Harris’ Moriarty (dessert?) is more than a good match against Robert Downey Jr.’s Holmes, but the story moves at such a break-neck pace, that there just isn’t time to digest how and why Moriarty is so threatening in the first place. What is it we are supposed to be fearing? Of course there is the usual ‘this is how I discovered your nefarious plan’ speech (amusingly played out via a game of chess) near the end, but the pay-off is not nearly good enough to forgive the film’s brain-muddling middle section. Oh, and if Stephen Fry’s purpose in the film was for him to be more than just comic value, what exactly was that purpose?
As has already been mentioned, this film knows what it’s strengths are and, thankfully, it sticks to them. However, there is a difference between using your strengths, and relying on them too much as a tool to draw people in. This film skirts on the latter, covering for a plot that would have benefitted from being a bit more elementary, my dear Watson.
Kyle Buxton is an independent freelance film reviewer and blogger
Be sure to check out hid blog at: Reel Lighthouse – containing movie reviews, as well as other occasional film-related insights.