December 18, 2011

Movie Review: Sherlock Holmes A Game of Shadows

It was just a couple of years ago that the character of Sherlock Holmes was reintroduced to the mass audience. It is not that people did not know of Holmes, but I believe his popularity with the public at large was not as high as it once was. Of course,  I could just be making that up based on my own anecdotal evidence. I will admit to having an extremely limited experience with the character. Frankly, I made a lot of assumptions about what the character was all about, all my fault. At some point I actually plan to do some Holmes reading. In any case, that 2009 movie was pretty awesome. It was a lot of fun, and that is what I hoped for with the sequel.

A Game of Shadows takes us back into the world of Holmes and his ever expanding web of conspiracy. The central part of this tale focuses on the culmination of a battle that has been going on between Holmes and his nemesis, Prof. James Moriarty (Jared Harris). It is not exactly a direct battle, although that is what everything is building to. It is a case of two evenly matched intellects in a virtual game of chicken, who will back down first? It is a staring contest as Moriarty, in the guise of an Oxford professor and personal friend  to the Prime Minister, is maneuvering state leaders into a war where he will profit immensely from his secret munitions factory.

Of course, Holmes knows that Moriarty is a bad guy even if he has no hard proof to show for it. It is in their one on ones where the movie sparkles. They have a few scenes together where they engage in a chess match, both literally and figuratively. Their dialogue is tinged with sharp barbs, you can feel the tension in the air. Their meeting at the end of the film is particularly strong during their literal chess match and its aftermath. Now, I have a slight issue with some of the ending, but not enough to ruin it. It is a well designed and paced sequence that is hard to ignore.

Now, before we are able to get to the meaty part of the confrontation, there is some set up and other conflicts to work through. You see, Holmes and Watson have not exactly been working together much. As the movie starts Watson has come back to town as his wedding date approaches, Holmes is the best man and they have a stag party to throw! Well, this turns from a party to an intel gathering mission for Holmes. This introduces us to Madam Simza (Noomi Rapace from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), a gypsy fortune teller who is unknowingly involved in Moriarty's anarchist plot.

The story takes us though Victorian London, Paris, and Switzerland. It is a bit of a whirlwind tour that makes it feel a little bit like a James Bond adventure played out in period clothing. That's all right, it still works. Now, it is not a perfect movie, far from it. I actually found it to be a little draggy through the middle. It is still entertaining enough, I just cannot say it outdoes the first film. This one does not quite have the same fun factor.

What makes this movie work as well as it does, aside from the Holmes/Moriarty face offs, are the performances and the style. Sounds pretty simple doesn't it? The Holmes/Watson relationship is pretty great and that is in no small part due to Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law. These two work very well together. Even if Sherlock seems just a couple shades away from Tony Stark, Downey still strikes an impressive screen presence. Law is a strong foil as the straight man to Downey's egomaniac genius. They are fun to watch together.

As for the supporting cast, Noomi Rapace is a welcome addition. Granted, she does not have an awful lot to do, but she fits the film and does a fine job of playing the role. Rachel McAdams returns and her period presence has not improved, I like her as an actress, but here she seems, just like in the prior film, uncomfortable and out of place. Then there is another new addition, Stephen Fry as Mycroft Holmes. He is pretty funny and Fry certainly goes for the gold with a few Austin Powers-esque nude bits.

Guy Ritchie returned to the director's chair for this second outing and his visual sense is still felt throughout. His look fits the material, it gives it a visceral flair and he makes good use of slow motion, seriously. The chase through the forest with the trees exploding is really good. I also like the return of the conceit from the first where we see Holmes plot a fight out in the split second before it starts. I always enjoyed this, it shows just how quick Holmes' mind works and allows us to extrapolate to the bigger mysteries he is working on.

In the end, A Game of Shadows is a fun, entertaining movie. It may not live up to its predecessor, but that is not to sell it short. This go around has style and fun to make it a worthwhile ticket. Check it out, have a little fun with it.


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