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
The first Guy Ritchie directed Sherlock Holmes film was a lot of fun and genuinely a fresh take on the world's greatest detective. It skillfully balanced the action elements with the intricate mystery plot and sowed the seeds for the introduction of Holmes’ arch nemesis Professor Moriarty. There was great chemistry between Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law and their buddy action comedy style banter was perfectly at home in a film produced by Joel Silver. Perhaps because of the enormous success of the first film and its more risky take on the myth of Sherlock Holmes, the makers have decided here to amplify the action elements in favour of the mystery and clever plotting. Whilst as an action adventure movie Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows works brilliantly and is two hours of fantastic entertainment, it still feels like a missed opportunity.
The story picks up some time after the events of the first film with Holmes investigating Professor Moriarty’s dastardly deeds and their connection with a series of bombings throughout Europe. During this introduction the problems with the screenplay are apparent straight away. Gone is the smartly dressed man in the shadows from the first movie, Moriarty as played by Jared Harris is just there straight away like nothing happened. It’s almost like two movies worth of plotting and story didn’t get made and we have picked up the thread of the story at film number four in the series because it feels like a lot has happened between the two arch enemies. There is an unexpected death of a major character from the first movie which sets the stakes fairly high for the rest of the film. After the introduction scenes we learn that Watson is about to finally be married and that Holmes is his best man. These scenes are fun and we get introduced to Holmes’ brother Mycroft, played brilliantly by Stephen Fry with just the right level of reservation and eccentricity. The stag party and wedding scenes, whilst amusing don’t really add a lot to the plot overall and just pad out an already flabby screenplay. Whilst on the stag party for Watson, Holmes meets a gypsy fortuneteller who is being targeted by Moriarty for reasons involving her missing brother. After Moriarty makes a direct threat against Watson’s life, Holmes has no choice but to tag along on the happy couple’s honeymoon and instead he and Watson embark on a breathless chase through Europe in order to find out Moriarty’s true plan.
There is nothing wrong with Jared Harris’ portrayal of Professor Moriarty, the actors unassuming appearance works well and suggests a whole fountain of evil rage behind the calm exterior. Had the role been played by someone like Gary Oldman then the expectation would have been for scene chewery which hasn’t happened here. The problem is Moriarty is supposed to be Holmes nemesis and the only villain ever truly worthy of challenging Holmes’ vast intellect and cunning. If you think of Holmes as Batman, then Moriarty would be the Joker. In this film Moriarty’s plan boils down to being the same as any number of Bond villains or villains from dumb Joel Silver produced action films from the 90s. It just feels like they went a completely different route with the character instead of really making this story a battle for the ages. I hate to do this because I think that they are completely different beasts but compare this film to the Sherlock BBC series for a moment. The plots in those episodes are some of the most brilliantly written television for quite some time. The manner in which they introduced Moriarty there was excellent - it made a lot of sense for the character and was actually kind of scary. If the film series could match writing that skilful with Guy Ritchie’s talent for directing action scenes then we could be talking classic movies here.
Whilst it may sound like I am quite down on this it’s really not a bad film at all. If you look at Game of Shadows through the prism of pure entertainment then it’s a roaring success. The comedy is amped up; Holmes gets even more eccentric here with his experiments and little quirks. Downey and Law’s chemistry is present and correct and they bicker and banter their way through the film and even get some of the fast becoming cliché bromance type scenes which deepen their friendship. There are some very expensive looking and brilliantly filmed action scenes with a great use of slow motion and pyrotechnics, the whole thing is very accomplished and technically impressive. It’s rollicking good fun throughout and a good bet for a great night out this Christmas. The finale happens to actually live up to all of the potential the sequel had and manages to be one of the best climaxes in a film this year without over reliance on explosions.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is top notch entertainment and still one of the smarter blockbuster sequels to come out for many a year. It’s just a waste of a good villain and a potential classic has been lost.
Expected rating: 9 out of 10