In recreating Sherlock Holmes, a character whose reputation has sperad far beyond the short stories penned by Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle in the Victorian era, Guy Ritchie stated that he wished to bring the definitive detective up to date for a new generation. His take on Holmes left fans wondering not only if he could do the original source material justice, but also if any additions he made would be worthy of a legacy that almost defined the early format of the crime thriller. Holmes has been portrayed on the large and small screen many times before, yet it is unlikely that he has been exhibited with as much bravado as in Ritchie’s portrayal. The character is at once true to the original work, and something which cannot fail to appeal to the cinema audience. Robert Downey jr. has undoubtedly reinvented the classic detective, and faulted as his creation is, it is nevertheless a pleasure to watch.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows sees Downey jr. reprise his role as the Baker Street detective, with Jude Law as Dr. Watson, about to enter married life and embarking upon one final adventure with Holmes. Stephen Fry is Mycroft Holmes, brother to the detective and a key figure in the murky world of national security. The key addition to the film come in the form of Jared Harris, who takes on the role of Dr. Moriarty, a university lecturer whose expansive grasp over the underworld of Europe and plans of profiting over war in the continent form the film’s plot. Noomi Rapace, following her great success in the Swedish film ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’, takes on her first English speaking role as Sim, a gypsy girl trying to track down the whereabouts of her brother. Against a backdrop of late Victorian Europe, framed by conflicting anarchist and nationalist leanings and driven by the increasingly likey chance of war throughout the continent, these characters find themselves entangled by their personal and professional interests, with Moriarty sitting at the heart of the web.
Holmes’ remarkable intellect and religious devotion to logic have always been key to the character. Ritchie’s main renovation comes in the form of violence, albeit laterally thought through. Fans of the first film will be familiar with the process by which the audience watches Holmes plan out his fight, considering every possibility with mathematic caution, and these moments are certainly the highlight of the film’s action sequences. The final scene, in which Holmes and his intellectual equal, Moriarty, both map out the possibilities of one last fight, is particularly good. However, juxtaposing a bullet in slow motion missing a character, followed by chaotic fast-forward action, has its limitations. Ritchie has shown in his previous films a penchant for flashy editing, and the same is true of Game of Shadows. That said, the finale is enjoyable enough (and, give or take a few details, accurate enough to the original story) that much may be forgiven.
Downey jr. makes for a good Holmes, though there are points where the dialogue between him and Watson becomes a little too obvious. The contrast between their former days of adventuring and Watson’s imminent marriage is hammered home slightly too hard, and there are times when the two characters seem more like aging lovers or old maids, rather than friends. This would seem to be the other facet of bringing the character to a new generation: instilling of stag-do humour on the one hand, and genuine concern and attachment on the other, than can seem somewhat forced at times.
A Game of Shadows is certainly an enjoyable action caper, even if it might miss the mark occasionally. It seems like a film torn between a ‘Boy’s own’ escapade and a slick take on Victorian Europe and, while not quite succeeding at either, is still worth a watch.
Reviewer: John Stoner
Classification: 12A (UK)
Director: Guy Richie
Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace and Jared Harris