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Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Tonight's Feature Presentation

SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS (2011)

Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Jude Law, Jared Harris, Stephen Fry, Noomi Rapace, Rachel McAdams, Kelly Reilly

Written By: Michele Mulroney, Kieran Mulroney Directed By: Guy Ritchie

The Short Version

This follow up is less about detection than it is about adventure.

It’s also a whole lot of fun to watch.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows definitely has a few surprises in store.

Everyone’s more comfortable in their own skin with this installment, and it shows.

If you’ve a taste for adventure, then Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is what you’re after.

The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

FONDUE.

French wine and Swiss cheese combine as the traditional base for something that can provide a superb flavor for just about anything you're adventurous enough to dip into it.


Pairs Well With...

AQUAVIT.

Not to be confused with “Schnapps,” Mr. Holmes notes, but he will thank you for a swallow whatever you choose to call it.

“Be careful what you fish for.”


An initial sequel can be a dicey thing.  Do you play it all the same way, or do you go for something different?  Will the characters still work?  Will the chemistry be the same?  Will people who saw the first be happy with the second?

For many fans of the character, the 2009 offering of Sherlock Holmes was already a jolt, even as it did keep much more faith to the original works of Conan Doyle than might have been apparent on the surface.  How one reacted to that initial jolt will very much determine if one is ready for what comes next in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.  (In fact, though it is not an absolute requirement, I do strongly suggest seeing the first film before this one; this is a direct sequel and some parts of it will make a lot more sense with the extra context.)  If you liked how things went with the first one, you’re likely to enjoy this one; indeed, there’s a fair chance you’ll enjoy it even more.  If you didn’t like the first one… well, you probably weren’t planning on watching this one anyway, then, were you?

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is less about detection and investigation than it is about globetrotting adventure.  If you’re looking for a basis of comparison, think of it as “James Bond goes Steampunk.”  As it so happens, this is not at all a bad thing.

It is the year 1891.  Political tensions are high throughout Europe, and there are whispers of a coming war.  Bombs are going off everywhere; indeed, as we begin our tale, Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr., The Avengers), has just discovered another.  Though he does manage to prevent it from doing its dirty work, he finds its intended target lying dead in an alley moments later all the same, courtesy of a poisoned dart.  And he knows just who’s responsible for it, too: the Napoleon of Crime, Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris, Resident Evil: Apocalypse).

Proving it, though, is another matter.

His best clue leads him to a Gypsy woman named Sim (Noomi Rapace, the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), and he’s really like to question her, but wouldn’t you know it, Holmes is already supposed to be busy that night hosting the stag party for his good friend Dr. Watson (Jude Law, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow), who is in turn getting married the next day.  Ah, well; can’t hurt to combine the two tasks, right?

Does anyone think that Watson’s going to be allowed a peaceful honeymoon?  Anyone?  Yeah, thought so.  But then again, if he can help Holmes to prevent a world war, then the distraction could be considered worth it…

Ah, the threat of starting World War I twenty-ish years early: it’s a steampunk favorite.  And if anyone’s going to try and pull it off, why not Professor Moriarty, one of the prototypical uber-villains?  Think of him as “Dr. Mo,” if you must.

All puns aside, however, it must be said that Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is definitely a very fun and very exciting movie, and a worthy sequel to 2009’s Sherlock Holmes.  If we head to the theatre to escape and enjoy ourselves, then this movie is indeed that very purpose realized.  It is the thrill of foiling evil in the face of impossible odds, and the excitement of watching well-matched adversaries face-to-face on a field that plays to both of their strengths.    It is, in a word, adventure.

(It’s also worth pointing out that while I may be making the comparison freely, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is not simply James Bond tossed back to the age of steam.  What I’m saying is that there’s a similarity of experience.  Sherlock Holmes is still Sherlock Holmes.  Professor Moriarty is, quite frankly, smarter than Ernst Stavro Blofeld or Hugo Drax.  But the larger than life adventure of going off to save the world when most people don’t even know it’s in that much danger?  Oh yeah; that’s here in spades.)

There is indeed still quite a bit of detection involved – it is, after all, still Sherlock Holmes’ stock in trade – but up until the very end, it feels like detection more along the lines that we would expect James Bond to do trying to track down the latest megalomaniac.  It’s not that the film isn’t true to the character – for it certainly is – but rather, it’s that director Guy Ritchie has decided that he already turned in his resume in the form of the first film and that the public hired him by way of making it a success, and therefore, he can just relax this time around and go for it in a way that he may perhaps have been still too cautious to attempt in 2009.  This is his movie, and he’s doing everything his way.

That way, of course, is the one that makes the “non-stop action!” blurb that is certain to grace the back of the blu ray box a few months down the line a literal truth instead of the usual lie.  Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is relentlessly paced (you’re not going to want to take any bathroom breaks), and when it’s all said and done, you might be surprised to realize that the movie has actually been going on for more than two hours.  However, it’s a relentless pacing that still allows the audience to breathe and to recover between bullets and explosions without suffering from “action overload.”  (Michael Bay could really stand to learn a few things from Guy Ritchie in that department.)  Part of the trick is that everything moves the story forward, and not just the action sequences.  Jokes – which are funnier than ever this time around – move it forward.  Dialogue moves it forward.  A very large man standing around naked while he tries to make small talk moves it forward.  A scene involving an actor standing still and letting go of a handkerchief moves it forward.  Yes, the howitzer vs. sniper stuff is cool, but I would argue that it’s even cooler precisely because the audience hasn’t been waiting on it to happen.  The actors have been keeping them busy even without the bullets.

And speaking of…

Our heroes are established now, and don’t need a lengthy introduction.  What’s more, the actors playing them have refined their chemistry, and play off of each other even better than before.  Just as Guy Ritchie is now more comfortable behind the camera, Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law have reached the point where their repartee seems so natural that you can imagine them doing it all day even when the cameras aren’t rolling.  What’s more, with Robert Downey, Jr. at his ease, it is thus that much easier to bring in Jared Harris as his great nemesis, Moriarty, and have him play as the mirror to Holmes.  It also makes it that much easier for Stephen Fry (V For Vendetta) to riotously step in as “Sherly’s” smarter brother, Mycroft, because again, the point of reference has been established and no one’s worried about getting it wrong anymore.  And what happens when we all relax?  What happens is that we all have fun.

And we need to, because along with all of the action and all of the humor and all of the intellectual fencing, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows also provides its share of gripping drama.

There is one definite surprise in this film that I won’t spoil for people who don’t know it already; I’ll just say that if you weren’t prepared in advance, it’s a bombshell, especially if you saw the first movie.  What’s more, it’s a powerful one, not simply for occurring, but for how the characters react to it occurring.  Most of the reaction is unspoken, but that fact that it comes across so clearly is a testament to the amazing talent of the actors involved; one, of course, in particular.  Few movies that thrill the way Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows does also take the time to be moving, even for a few moments, but this one does, and it does so on several occasions.

Something else also occurs that may surprise people who only know Sherlock Holmes from the screen but which will be a familiar jolt for those who know him from the printed page.  If you’ve read the stories, you may have guessed already, and if not, there’s one visual cue that will certainly set it off for you.  Again, for those who haven’t had it spoiled for them yet, I’ll leave it at that, but I will say that as with everything else, the cast and crew handle it very, very well.

As for what they did wrong… I really can’t think of anything. If they did, I was having too much fun to notice, and that's really the point of it all, isn't it?

Bottom line, if you’re going to see just one movie to close out 2011, then Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is the one to go with.  It is the very definition of what fun adventure films are supposed to be, and it still has the power to surprise even as it thrills.  I suggest seeing the previous Sherlock Holmes first if you haven’t already, but even if you can’t, this sequel is still definitely worth your time, and the price of a ticket to see it in an actual theatre.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, December, 2011


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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