Guy Ritchie’s sequel, ‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows’, is a highbrow action film that is exciting, thrilling, and very fun. This second effort, to an original that possessed an incohesive script and an inability to hold my attention throughout its duration, provides a fantastic adversary, stylish action sequences, a creative plot and a seamless flow that all fall perfectly into place. I must confess, this was a delightful surprise worth a second watch.
Sherlock Holmes has always been the smartest man in the room…until now. There is a new criminal mastermind at large—Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris)—and not only is he Holmes’ intellectual equal, but his capacity for evil, coupled with a complete lack of conscience, may give him an advantage over the renowned detective. Around the globe, headlines break the news: a scandal takes down an Indian cotton tycoon; a Chinese opium trader dies of an apparent overdose; bombings in Strasbourg and Vienna; the death of an American steel magnate… No one sees the connective thread between these seemingly random events—no one, that is, except the great Sherlock Holmes, who has discerned a deliberate web of death and destruction. At its center sits a singularly sinister spider: Moriarty. Holmes’ investigation into Moriarty’s plot becomes more dangerous as it leads him and Watson out of London to France, Germany and finally Switzerland. But the cunning Moriarty is always one step ahead, and moving perilously close to completing his ominous plan. If he succeeds, it will not only bring him immense wealth and power but alter the course of history.
The reason this movie worked so much better than the first one is due to the new villain in town that opposes our protagonist – Professor James Moriarty played wonderfully by Jared Harris, known from the Mad Men television series. Heroes like Holmes suffer from the ‘invincible syndrome’ that affects so many stories of the like. We all know that the hero will always win and it’s hard not to zone out when this happens. But not here; Moriarty supplies the film with a subtle sinisterness, menace and belief that he can defeat Holmes, mind to mind, wit to wit, and punchline to punchline. It’s this plausibility that makes the difference between an ordinary action film churned in a Los Angeles warehouse and a rousing and titillating experience this sequel brings forth.
I would be remiss in not mentioning Robert Downey Jr.’s performance, which is infused with some hilarious moments, but also with a sense of fear for his death and to the loved ones around him. Jude Law serves as a nice compliment to Holmes, but is unequivocally overshadowed by Downey’s performance. Noomi Rapace doesn’t replicate anything remotely to her character of Lisbeth Salander in ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ but perhaps proves that she can do a film in English. Finally, Stephen Fry, who somehow has to convince us he is Sherlock’s brother, is a graceful and charming man who manages to stand out from all the action sequences.
What the movie has going against it, at moments, is the English accents that get in the way of understanding the, at times, entertaining but complicated plot. Nevertheless, if that’s the worst I have to endure, then it becomes just a matter of taste because there are many who like those accents.
Guy Ritchie is in rare form here. Not since ‘Snatch’ has he been this good. His stylistic camera shots, his slow-mo trademark moments and his irreverent humor are all present here, but he’s added a maturity to the storytelling that has polished his filmmaking. The action sequences are phenomenal. Some that come to mind are the bullet-fest on a train, Jude Law’s cannon incident with a tower and a sharpshooter, plus the race for their lives through a forest while a deluge of bombs bullets and missiles almost claimed their lives.
‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows’ is being released concurrently with another unabashed action film in Tom Cruise’s ‘Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol’ in IMAX. Even though ‘MI:4’ might be better, your decision will ultimately boil down to your particular tastes in stars, a classic vs contemporary story, and whether one of them is sold out or not. You really can’t go wrong with these selections, making this week in movies, one of the most entertaining of 2011.