Directed by Guy Ritchie. Starring Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Jared Harris, Stephen Fry, Rachel McAdams, and Noomi Rapace. 129 minutes. PG-13.
I’ve loved Sherlock Holmes stories since I was a girl. My father read many of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes stories, and I took up reading them from time to time when I was young. I was a voracious little reader, and although I couldn’t quite keep up with Holmes’ logical reasoning in solving crimes, I did find the tales thrilling. So when Guy Ritchie got into the Sherlock Holmes movie adaptation business, I was very eager to see what he might do with those beloved characters of British literature. The first movie, in 2009, did not disappoint, so I was eagerly anticipating the second film, released December 16th.
Ritchie and Downey’s interpretation of Sherlock Holmes, as a neurotic, childish, paranoid, bare-knuckle fighting (hollaback: Brad Pitt in Snatch), swashbuckling, semi-reclusive genius was fabulous the first time around. The second time, unfortunately, it’s lost a bit of its initial appeal. Holmes has been left to his own devices since the departure of his best friend and collaborator, Jude Law’s Dr. Watson, from their accommodations at 221B Baker Street in the first film. Holmes seems to have gone a bit further down the rabbit hole in Watson’s absence.
The shine has also worn off the relationship between Downey’s Holmes and Law’s Watson. In the first film, they were practically flirting with one another, which made for quite compelling viewing. In this film, the distance between the two men, due to Holmes’ jealousy over Watson’s impending marriage, is difficult for the two actors to bridge, and the movie suffers for it. They rely a bit too much on a shorthand that the characters haven’t quite earned in this film, a personal history that we as the audience are meant to understand exists because the characters and director say it does, but we don’t see so much of for ourselves. In this way, it helps to have seen the first movie and remember the connection between Law and Downey, because you don’t get much of that in this one.
This film sees the real introduction of the villainous Professor Moriarity (Jared Harris of Mad Men fame), Holmes’ arch-nemesis. Moriarity was only featured in two of Doyle’s stories (although he was mentioned in a handful of others). But his description as a criminal master-mind, as well as Holmes’ inability to catch him on the first try, have given him more prominence over the years as Holmes’ truest adversary. Harris does a great job playing the villain here, cold and calculating, always a step ahead. He seems to relish the role. Not to give away the ending, but if you’re familiar with the stories, you know how things turn out here. Some other liberties were taken here—Ritchie’s timeline is all screwed up with respect to global politics and Moriarity is basically a megalomaniac seeking world economic domination. But you know, whatever.
The cinematography is excellent in A Game of Shadows. The grimy, gritty, and grey London of the first movie continues here with great effect, and there is a fantastic scene in the woods (set along the French-German border). A carry-over from the first movie is Holmes’ ability to visualize, in slow-motion and with great predictive acumen, a fight sequence before it happens makes for good entertainment, and kind of makes you wish he could do the same with all his interactions, especially his interpersonal ones. Or maybe that you could.
A sore point for me is the use and presence of female characters in this film. Rachel McAdams, who I have always generally liked, is so great in the role of Irene Adler, Holmes’ elusive true love. She out-foxes Holmes at every turn, always maintains a bit of smug disinterest, and uses wit instead of wiles (ok, maybe in addition to wiles) to get ahead in a man’s world of crime and intrigue. I wanted to see more of her. Her role is, shall we say, limited in this film, and instead “the” female presence in the movie is taken over by Noomi Rapace, of the Swedish-language Millennium series films. Rapace is great here, what little we actually see of her, but she’s no match for Holmes. Guy Ritchie, why oh why can’t we just have two women in a movie? Must we really always use female characters to either mother or motivate male characters? Sigh.
Overall, A Game of Shadows is an enjoyable romp of a movie, with lots of action and some cleverness. It’s just not as good as the first. C+
By: Jennifer Simpson
Films I love: Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Fargo, Being John Malkovich, Melancholia, Volver, Juno