Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Sherlock Holmes - A Game of Shadows Movie Review

I wish I could remember more than a few vague details about Guy Ritchie’s first Sherlock Holmes so that I could make some kind of pithy comparison between it and its sequel Sherlock Holmes – A Game of Shadows. Unfortunately the first was a mostly forgettable exercise in style over substance. Ritchie’s films have always tended toward a strong emphasis on camera tricks, bits of slow motion spliced together with regular speed action and a cacophony of thudding and popping sound effects to conduct a symphonic overload of the senses. It worked for his first two outings but now grows tiresome.

The inimitable Robert Downey, Jr., who elevates everything by his mere presence, reprises the title role of the master sleuth of Baker Street. The twist on his character, rather clumsily introduced in this film’s predecessor, is that Holmes appears inept and a bit daft while coming out the other side as if he had everything planned out all along. As a suspense-generating device this has severe limitations when we can assume at every moment of peril that Holmes has something up his sleeve.

This second installment in what could become a franchise for Warner Bros. pits Holmes against his arch-nemesis Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris). There is such wonderful potential with this character, who is the only intellectual equal to the great Holmes in the canon, to develop a smart script. Screenwriters Michele and Kieran Mulroney have squandered a great opportunity. There is an obvious attempt at making their antagonistic relationship something special, employing a chess motif (the game of the super-intelligent) throughout to suggest that their moves against one another are carefully planned out, devised with the odd sacrifice in mind to eventually achieve a check mate. The best they could offer up for the great Moriarty is a megalomaniacal and greedy scheme to buy up several weapons factories around Europe and then set the pieces in motion for a world war beginning with the assassination of a single politician.

If this sounds vaguely familiar it’s because that’s how WWI actually started in 1914 – 23 years after A Game of Shadows takes place. That Holmes’ goal is to thwart Moriarty and prevent global catastrophe is tinged with irony – fact that doesn’t go unmentioned by the villain himself- because regardless of any success he has at averting disaster now, we know that war is inevitable later.

Jude Law also returns as Holmes’ trusty sidekick and protégé, Dr. John Watson. His impending marriage to Mary Morstan (Kelly Reilly) is almost ruined before it has a chance to get started, which I suppose is Moriarty’s warm-up to his world war. Stephen Fry makes a welcome addition to the cast, helping stir up the blandness whenever he’s onscreen as Holmes’ older brother Mycroft. Rachel McAdams makes a brief appearance as Irene Adler, Holmes’ love interest and foil from the first film, but she is quickly dispatched, leaving the gap for a female supporting role to b e filled by Noomi Rapace as a gypsy fortune teller whose brother, an anarchist, is deeply involved in Moriarty’s plans.

Rapace, as is so often the case for women in action movies, has so little to do in most of her scene that she functions as little more than set decoration. And why her brother is mixed up in the plot is never elucidated in any satisfactory way especially considering gypsies, nomadic people with few ties to or cares for modern society, are not particularly known for their active political aspirations. But Guy Ritchie seems to have a slight gypsy fetish, using them for a bit of (slightly) offensive comic relief as he did in Snatch where Brad Pitt played an Irish gypsy no one could understand.

A Game of Shadows is perhaps marginally better or more interesting than Sherlock Holmes. Ritchie outdoes himself with a little twist on his fight scene breakdown technique that he employed in the earlier film, using two new techniques to make them somewhat surprising this time around. But this alone is not enough to outright recommend the movie. Arthur Conan Doyle created an indelible character and set of stories. Guy Ritchie has plumbed it for mediocrity. I don’t have much patience for mediocre anymore.

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