Movie Review: Sherlock Holmes - A Game of Shadows

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Review: Sherlock Holmes - A Game of Shadows (12A) /Directed by: Guy Ritchie / Screenplay by: Kieran and Michele Mulrooney /Starring: Robert Downey Jnr, Jude Law, Jared Harris, Noomi Rapace, Rachel McAdams, Stephen Fry / Release date: Out Now

Busy times ahead for fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Great Detective with Anthony Horowitz's excellent new Doyle-estate sanctioned novel 'The House Of Silk' resembling nothing so much as an undiscovered work from the original canon and the second series of the BBC's much-admired 21st century incarnation 'Sherlock' on the starting blocks and ready to arrive on our screens from New Year's Day.

Busiest and noisiest of them all, though, is 'A Game Of Shadows' which reunites director Guy Ritchie (whose first Holmes film, two years ago, rescued his career from British gangster movie Hell) with Robert Downey Jnr and Jude Law as the redoubtable Holmes and the trusty Watson, in their more familiar Victorian London stamping ground. Many Holmes purists balked at the first film's depiction of Holmes as more of a two-fisted action hero than a contemplative detective but the Box Office is no respecter of tradition and the film's huge success meant that we were always going to get More Of The Same. So here it is. And, although I'm not a puritanical Holmes devotee, it's hard not to be a little bit concerned at some of the liberties 'A Game of Shadows' takes...

Don't get me wrong, 'A Game of Shadows' is a terrific piece of entertainment, confidently directed, competently-written and with its budget right up there on the screen disporting itself vulgarly in a series of dynamic and imaginative action sequences. But I can't help but be a bit alarmed and dismayed by the rather tongue-in-cheek tone of the piece, a sort of 'what larks' attitude which has reduced Sherlock Holmes (irritatingly referred to as 'Sherly' by his brother Mycroft, here played by Stephen Fry) to little more than a Victorian-era Tony Stark (fictional alter ego of Downey's other current big screen hero figure, Marvel's Iron Man). For 'A Game of Shadows' is first and foremost about the relationship between Holmes and Watson (and no, the word 'bromance' will not pass my lips as long as I'm able to draw breath) and it's not the irresistible relationship based on Watson's fascination with his detective friend depicted in the original Holmes stories but more of a 'Laurel and Hardy' knockabout relationship where Watson despairs of Holmes and Holmes takes the mickey out of Watson and practically everyone else. One-liners abound... and in fact they abound so much they threaten to derail the first half of the film which seems far more concerned with making the audience laugh - look, Holmes in drag, look, Holmes on a silly donkey - than telling a thrilling, ripping adventure story.

When the film does get round to its story, it's actually something and nothing, a confection about the evil Professor Moriarty (effectively played with considerable understated menace by Jared Harris) who plans to trigger a World War by sabotaging a peace conference in Switzerland purely because he's got an arms manufacturing gig going. But the story's robust enough to support a few bangs and flashes in London before zipping across to Europe where Holmes and Watson battle baddies on a cross-continental train and, in the best sequence of the film, flee through a forest under gunfire and mortar attack. Ritchie gives this scene his all; slow-motion shots, explosions, bullets zinging through clothes, trees cracking apart under mortar fire. It's a tough, uncompromising sequence which seems at odds with the relentless japery of much of the rest of the film.

'A Game of Shadows' is resolutely Boy's Own stuff. The ladies don't get much of a look-in - another nod towards the now barely-suppressed homo-erotic subtext (sigh) between Holmes and Watson? Rachel McAdams cameos as Irene Adler and the splendid Noomi Rapace, so good as the original Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish 'Millennium Trilogy' films, barely registers here as a gypsy fortune teller who has about six lines of dialogue and just drifts in and out of the film. The movie's happier concentrating on the banter between Holmes and Watson, occasionally focussing on the former's absolute reliance on the latter (particularly in one telling sequence where he slips quietly out through the church gate after Watson has finally married) and Watson's exasperation  with Holmes.

But I'm probably being a bit disingenuous. 'A Game of Shadows' may be a bit tonally lop-sided but it's an impossible film to dislike because it's so good-natured. Downey Jnr is clearly having a ball deconstructing Holmes and then rebuilding him as something else entirely and yet still recognisably Sherlock Holmes (Ritchie's whizzy deductive montages and 'that's how he did it' flashbacks are great fun) and even Jude Law has found his natural place at last in the cinema scheme of things. There's really never a dull moment (even if there are one or two ridiculous ones - the most ridiculous right at the end of the movie, sadly), the film looks wonderful with some fantastic production design and quite subtle FX stuff and the movie's at its best during Holmes and Moriarty's tense confrontations, two determined predators circling each other and waiting for the moment to take advantage of the weaknesses of the other.

Die-hards will probably still be shaking their heads in horror at this latest outing for Ritchie's Holmes and Watson but sometimes you just have to go with the flow and accept that some characters, if they're to survive and thrive decades after their creation, are going to be ripe for reinvention and reinterpretation. 'A Game of Shadows' is funny and fast-paced and it won't be to the taste of every Sherlock Holmes aficionado, but even the most determined of traditionalists can take solace from the fact that there's sure to be another Sherlock coming their way before long.

Expected rating: 8 out of 10

Actual rating:


'Sherlock Holmes - A Game of Shadows' is detectable at cinemas all over the UK now.

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