Saturday, December 17, 2011

"Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" (2011)

Starring Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law and Noomi Rapace
Written by Kieran Mulroney and Michele Mulroney
Directed by Guy Ritchie
Rated PG-13 - Violence, language, brief nudity
Running Time: 128 Minutes

"More of the same" is sometimes what you can call sequels of this ilk.  But when it's enjoyable, is that really a problem?

Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) is investigating the biggest case of his career.  The world's greatest detective not named Bruce Wayne has connected a series of crimes and terrorist acts to one Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris), but is unable to prove it.  Tensions are rising between France and Germany as a series of bombings in both countries point towards the other.  Holmes' brother Mycroft (Stephen Fry) warns Holmes that a summit is approaching, and that war between the two powers may be inevitable.

Meanwhile, Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) is about to be married to his fiancee Mary (Kelly Reilly).  Holmes uses Watson's bachelor party as an excuse to track down a Gypsy woman named Sim, whose brother is somehow connected to Moriarty's plans.  But Moriarty informs Holmes that he cannot allow Holmes to interrupt his schemes, nor can he ignore Watson's involvement in them, and sends a hit squad to kill Watson and Mary on their honeymoon.  Holmes intervenes, rescuing the two, and he and Watson set off to France with Sim to find her brother, uncover Moriarty's nefarious plan and stave off worldwide war.

It still seems odd to me to have an action/adventure movie based around Sherlock Holmes, but the truth is that it does work.  There's a confluence of solid scripting, energetic direction and fine casting that produces a brawny action flick full of fist-fights, explosions and shootouts but with just enough brains to be somewhat satisfying on an intellectual level.  It can't escape the feeling of being just a bit "dumbed down," though, but the results are fun and entertaining.

Robert Downey Jr. commands attention at all times, no matter how ridiculous or buffoonish they seem to take the character of Holmes.  Holmes is, of course, surrounded by characters who think him ridiculous, but Holmes' results speak for themselves. Holmes spends a lot of time in this movie coming up with various disguises to hide himself from his enemies, most of them are pretty ridiculous, especially one scene where he pretends to be a woman on a train.  As Downey has proven so many times in the last few years, he's easily capable of spouting off quick, witty dialogue, even when putting on different accents.

On the other side, Jared Harris makes a fine Moriarty.  He rarely seems menacing, but instead comes off as merely cold, calculating, which may be even scarier than a villain who chews scenery and twirls a mustache.  He works well with Downey.  Moriarty respects Holmes' intelligence, but Holmes is, surprisingly, intimidated by Moriarty's.  It's a fascinating chemistry between the two, and the scenes between them are interesting to watch.

Guy Ritchie once again directs with an unorthodox visual flair, showing us Holmes' thought process during his various violent encounters, or when he's summarizing evidence for Watson and Sim.  The action is thankfully never lost in shaky-camera nonsense, which is great considering all the period costumes and sets.  Ritchie's production designers have crafted a grimy, gritty old London, as well as other locations like Paris, Germany and a mountaintop in Switzerland.  It's all very detailed, but at the same time, it lacks color.  The film has a lot of grays and browns, with very few bright colors save for a few sequences, so it can sometimes look drab.

There are a couple of things about the plot I'm not sure make much sense.  An important assassination, for example, seems like overkill.  An important businessman is shot, and the room he is in blown up to hide the fact that he's been killed by a sniper.  But why bother with the sniper?  Everyone in the room with him was killed by the bomb anyway, so what's the point of shooting him?  I don't think I missed anything, so it seems to me that the entire point of staging the crime in such a fashion was just so that Holmes and Watson can root out the identity of the assassin so they know who to look for.  

Still, there are a number of exciting sequences throughout the film, which never drags as much as I felt the first one did at times.  It moves along at a peppy pace, though it does lack some emotional heft.  A character of some importance is killed early on in the film, and the dramatic weight of that death is rarely considered.  The film gets more mileage out of Watson, which I suppose is more in character, considering Holmes, but it still feels a little hollow.

But again, when you're having fun, such concerns can be allowed to fall by the wayside.  "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" is fun, and since that seems to be its aim, then that is really all we need to ask of it.  That it has a measure of cleverness in its plotting and characterization are bonuses. 

See Also
"Sherlock Holmes" (2009)