Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Movie Review: "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" (2012) by David Pretty
In my humble opinion, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows has some pretty hefty shoes to fill. And no, I'm not referring to the bar set by its predecessor from 2009. I'm actually referring to the stellar BBC television program that began the following year and just got renewed ("Yay!") for a third season.
The televised Sherlock transplants the action to modern-day London gaining all of the potential intrigue of a contemporary police procedural in the process. The scripts are incredibly clever, like little matryoshka dolls of mind-fuckery that constantly keep you guessing. Sherlock actually, y'know detects stuff and routinely gets his trench-coated ass handed to him in a fight. Most importantly, the show features the prodigious talents of Benedict Cumberpatch (!) as Sherlock and Martin Freeman as Watson. Their palpable chemistry and snappy repartee is just as engaging as anything tabled in Guy Ritchie's first Sherlock film.
So, I have to ask, is there any real reason to watch a new entry in this film series? Well, chaps, the answer might prove to be decidedly elementary.
First up, the film's trailer:
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows picks up a year after the first film ended. Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) is still under the thrall of the devious Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris), but she soon learns that working for a megalomaniacal super-villain can have its downsides (despite the presumably awesome dental plan). At the same time, Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) has been diligently linking Moriarty to a series of arms acquisitions, homicides and anarchist bombings.
Facing impending nuptials and the promise of a normal existence, Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) is less then enthused when his counterpart tries to rope him back into one final escapade. The good doctor's hand is forced, however, when he and his new bride are very nearly murdered by Moriarty's goons en route to their honeymoon. Only thanks to Sherlock's timely intervention is the day saved and Watson grudgingly agrees to help his old partner one last time.
The two travel to Paris in an effort to track down a gypsy woman named Simza (Noomi Rapace) whom our heroes had saved from Moriarty's machinations earlier. As it turns out, Simza's brother Rene is being used as a pawn to escalate tensions amongst the leaders of France and Germany. After a bomb blast is cleverly used to cover up an assassination, Moriarty gains control of a major munitions company and then plans to make a killing by nudging the European superpowers into a world war.
This plot alone is enough for me to recommend the film. I'm pleased that director Guy Ritchie and his tandem screen-writers Kieran and Michele Mulroney had the collective stones to bring up the very-real contemporary threat of war-profiteering and crisis capitalism. You get the sense that their version of Professor Moriarty would be well at home in today's modern world which offers unlimited financial gain to anyone who can dream up the worst possible exploitation and then jettison their conscience.
Mercifully, the part of Moriarty has been given to Mad Men's Jarred Harris, a consummate actor who is absolutely genuine in this role and positively magnetic to watch. He's supremely self-assured and in the hands of such a capable actor, you can see all sorts of interesting cogs and pin-wheels turning just below the surface. It's a masterful bit of casting.
Of course, both Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law are fantastic again as Holmes and Watson, but their characters don't really see much growth here. What we get from them in A Game of Shadows is just a second serving of what we saw in the previous film. If not for their dual aptitude to verbally paint-brush each other like an old married couple, I'd have to call this one a wash.
Noomi Rapace makes for a much more genuine addition to the cast, but regrettably she's little more then a mobile plot device here. Stephen Fry as Sherlock's brother Mycroft, on the other hand, proves to be a naturally eccentric member of the Holmes clan. His au naturel scene with the wonderfully uptight Kelly Reilly as Mary Morstan-Watson is delightfully well-played.
As good as the performances, dialogue and ample MacGuffins are, the film still feels like a retread. For example, I really liked the "bullet time" feature in the first film. It was sparingly used as a stylistic device to indicate the relative speed of Sherlock's "two-steps-ahead" thought process. But here it's used ad nauseam. The flight through the woods sequence, for example, ends up looking like an out-take from the John Woo version of Les Misérables. At one point in time, I half-expected a bunch of doves to fly by.
The film also looks unrepentantly dull. Not that the first film was a riot of color, but it just seemed a lot more fun to watch. After the movie leaves the Gypsy camp outside Paris it's nothing but iron-gray skies, poorly-lit factory interiors and glacier-perched Swiss castles. I know that darkness is thematic to the whole Shadows angle, but the level of drab is downright oppressive. It makes the film's two hour and ten minute run time feel like a school trip to a prison complex.
But I still need to give the producers credit for a few things. As soon as the script told us (in no uncertain terms, mind you) that Moriarty was a former boxing champ I immediately feared that we'd be forced to sit through some hackneyed Pier 6 brawl between the arch villain and Holmes by the end of the film. Guy Ritchie does a cheeky little twist on this by having the two engage in a hypothetical mental battle not unlike two samurai standing at either end of a bridge. It's a clever little sequence which satiates audience expectations while ridiculing those expectations all at the same time.
Although there's little here we haven't seen before, the action scenes are well-mounted, the witty dialogue is well-presented and the script is built on a daringly modern and provocative premise. I just wish that it would follow the television show's lead and feature more skull-duggery and less skull-bashery.