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#44: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011) May 14, 2012

Posted by badblokebob in : Action, Thriller, adaptations, 4 stars, Adventure, Sherlock Holmes, 2010s, 2012 , trackback

Guy Ritchie | 129 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

Sherlock Holmes A Game of ShadowsIf 2009’s Sherlock Holmes was Batman Begins — a re-introduction to a well-known hero and his entourage of secondary characters as they tackle a (second-string/unheard-of) menace in their home city — then A Game of Shadows is The Dark Knight: a globe-trotting epic against the famous, formidable nemesis attempting to drive the world to destruction. Unfortunately, the analogy doesn’t extend to the film’s extraordinary step-up in quality.

Before the first film’s release, accusations flew that Ritchie’s take on Holmes wasn’t faithful enough. Some of these persist, but as I noted in my original review I think they’re pish: yes, this series gives a blockbuster action/comedy spin on the character, but it remained a Sherlock Holmes tale. This is less true of the sequel. There’s still some detective work, but it comes in brief flashes here and there. The big denouement does pick up on scattered (deliberately-)easily-missed clues from throughout the film, but only to provide a standard Explain The Villain’s Grand Plan scene. A ballroom scene where Sherlock looks around the room, seeing “everything” through a series of quick-pan fast glimpses of stuff, highlights an inferiority to other current versions — where those certain others let us in on what Holmes is learning from his quick glances, here we just see some stuff. In short, it’s not Sherlocky enough.

Most of the other elements that made the first film a success are present and correct though. The banter between Robert Downey Jr.’s Holmes and Jude Law’s Watson zings as well as it did first time, though perhaps not always as memorably, A game of smokeand Ritchie crafts an array of interesting action sequences. Some still accuse it of being a sub-Matrix rip-off, which I personally think shows a lack of attention or imagination on the part of those viewers — there’s more to what’s going on here than that. There’s a wit The Matrix films never had, for one thing, and more twists on the format. The trick of having Holmes explain what he plans to do as we see it in slow-mo, before executing it at full blistering speed, is repeated but also subverted in multiple ways.

Plus the action is just finely staged full-stop — there’s a fun alleyway fight to open proceedings, a sprawling brawl around a London gentlemen’s club, a fun duel around a moving train (much seen in the trailers), and a stunningly unusual race through some woods away from a German munitions factory (coincidentally (I imagine) a bit like Captain America, but with better CGI; and also much seen in trailers). Those are the big numbers, but smaller-scale sequences come and go throughout. In many ways it pings from one action scene to another, a plot cropping up occasionally to provide a link between them.

A game of beardsYet for all that, that climax is a game of chess: Sherlock and Moriarty come face to face while in the room next door Watson and gypsy Simza try to spot an assassin. It’s one of a couple of scenes where Downey Jr.’s hero comes face to face with his nemesis, played by Jared Harris, and these scenes are definitely some of the film’s high points. Harris makes a perfect addition to the cast, the only disappointment being that we don’t get to see even more of him. Downey Jr.’s become such a Movie Star recently that it’s easy to forget he’s a multiple Oscar-nominee, and he and Harris give as good a hero-villain act-off as you’re likely to find in a blockbuster.

Other big-ticket cast additions include The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo herself, Noomi Rapace, seriously underused as the aforementioned gypsy fortune-teller Simza, who turns out to be central to the plot. The size and scope of her role actually fits the story, pretty much, and it wouldn’t have mattered if they’d cast a European ‘unknown’, but by making a fuss of casting That Acclaimed Actress From Those Acclaimed European Films and giving her third billing attention is drawn to how little she has to do.

A game of cameosBetter served is Stephen Fry as Mycroft, a role normally rendered as a brief cameo. And indeed it’s little more than that, but there’s more of him than I was expecting (certainly so in one (pointless aside of a) scene that I’m sure you’ve heard about), and Fry of course excels — it’s the kind of role he was made for. Meanwhile the award for best agent goes to Eddie Marsan’s: Lestrade appears late on for all of two shots, but Marsan is still billed high enough to be on the poster, above most of the cast.

A quick mention also for Hans Zimmer’s score. I enjoyed his work on the first film and he delivers again here. Zimmer’s one of those big Hollywood blockbuster composers whose work can all sound the same (I watched The Lion King just the other day and could definitely hear Piratical elements in there), but here he injects a bit more variety into his oeuvre. It’s not just the departure from his usual style that works, it’s that there’s a mixture of styles within the movie itself, each well suited to their own sequence while still blending as a whole.

A game of drinksA Game of Shadows comes out as a fun ride with stand-out moments, but not as a particularly exceptional version of Sherlock Holmes. It’s very enjoyable as a comedy-action movie with amusing characters and entertainingly-staged action sequences, but while my affection for the first has grown to make it one of my favourite movies, this is just an entertaining follow-up.

4 out of 5

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is out on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK from today, and in the US from June 12th. Ha-ha.


1. ghost of 82 - May 18, 2012

Good review. I think I enjoyed A Game of Shadows more than you, I thought it was a fantastic film and even better than the first. Maybe I’d temper my opinion with another viewing- I intend to watch it again before posting a review. But imagine them doing Hound Of The Baskervilles next with Werewolves or something! No doubt die-hard Sherlock fans would cry foul but, well, of course its all daft nonsense but when its this much fun I don’t care.

I don’t really think of these as Sherlock Holmes films, i.e. as ‘cannon’. I consider them to be escapist fun, affectionate homages, just as I do the BBC TV series. Jared Harris is a maginficent Moriarty though, I’d love to see him brought back from the dead for another turn.

Loved the production design too- I kept thinking that this is how the film of Alan Moore’s The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen should have been done.

2. badblokebob - May 19, 2012

I think that, much like the first, this is growing in my affections as time passes. I’m getting the feeling I watch Sherlock Holmes productions with a bit of a “go on, impress me then” attitude, that makes me quite critical immediately after watching and mellows with time — my impressions of both the Rathbone Hound and, as I mentioned, the first Downey Jr film have increased with memory and/or on second viewing.

I imagine I’ll like Game of Shadows more second time round too, because I certainly enjoyed significant chunks of it and I’ll spend less time looking for distinctive Sherlockian traits. Jared Harris is thoroughly excellent in everything I’ve ever seen him in and I think I’ll appreciate his Moriarty even more knowing this is all we’re likely to get of it.

Also, really like the idea of them tackling the Hound next. I think it helps any revisionist version of Holmes to have a handle to hook the idea on to. If first film was “Action Hero Sherlock” and the second was “Action Hero Sherlock vs Moriarty”, making the third “Action Hero Sherlock vs the Hound of the Baskervilles” seems a much better pitch than “Action Hero Sherlock Again”.

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