Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (rated M)
(reviewed by Symeon Thompson)
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (M), starring Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law.
Reviewed by Symeon Thompson.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is an over-the-top steampunk-driven adventure romping its way across Europe in an adrenaline-driven exercise in visual dynamism.
It is not a faithful adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary stories, either in word or spirit, but it is jolly good fun. Guy Ritchie has taken the rather dark, quite possibly insane, consulting detective and turned him into a weird, but endearing, version of James Bond and has given him adventures to match.
The story hinges on “The Napoleon of Crime”, Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris), and his machinations to set the whole of Europe into a war of all against all. The only man who knows his plans, and has some idea of how to stop him, is Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr), aided by the newly married Dr John Watson (Jude Law) and brought together again for one last adventure.
The only example of officialdom on their side is Sherlock’s brother Mycroft (whimsically portrayed by Stephen Fry), a man with no “defined” position, but absolutely invaluable to the British government. Their only clue is the missing brother of the gypsy fortune-teller Simza (Noomi Rapace), a woman of fierce independence who joins them on their adventures. Holmes and Watson jaunt across Europe with Simza, and her gypsy brethren, from France to Germany and finally on to Switzerland for a “ghastly peace conference”, as Mycroft refers to it.
Along the way there are explosions, fight scenes that owe more to Bruce Lee than the Marquis of Queensberry, gypsy dancing, explosions, grand opera, explosions, geopoliticking and more explosions. The creators were proud of their claim that there’s “not a deerstalker in sight”. Nor is there a magnifying glass, and there’s little of “the art of deduction”. Instead, Guy Ritchie and his writers sought to focus on Sherlock Holmes, the eccentric 19th-century adventurer and man of action.
Thankfully, Holmes still has his pipe, which he seems to have clamped in his jaw at every available opportunity, including when a team of red-uniformed soldiers tried to machine-gun him and Watson while they’re on a train — a train that was supposed to take Watson, and his new bride Mary, to their honeymoon in Brighton.
The good Doctor, apparently nicknamed “Dr Hotson” on set, is much sharper and more vigorous than many fans of the stories are used to. Taking their lead from his service in Afghanistan, the writers have focused on Watson’s martial prowess, although he is also given opportunities to show that he has mastered a good deal of the observational techniques that made Holmes such a groundbreaking character. Jude Law plays him with dry charm and a very masculine vigour.
Professor Moriarty, on the other hand, is played with a controlled menace, befitting a “morally insane, criminal genius”, to use Holmes’s words. Moriarty is a man of the Establishment. An esteemed academic and friend and adviser of the British Prime Minister, he is shown enjoying the opera as another of his violent plans comes to fruition. Beneath his tweed-wearing intellectual exterior lurks a man of incredible savagery keen to exploit the worst of human nature in an incredible exercise of nihilism and narcissism. Harris’s Moriarty is quite fearsome, and rather than the pyrotechnics that dominate most of the movie, his scenes with Holmes draw their power from a battle of brains, rather than brawn.
The marriage of Watson, and his “desertion” of Holmes, is handled with a deft and witty touch throughout. Mary (wonderfully played by Kelly Reilly) is a woman of sterling qualities, but Holmes can never quite get his head around the idea of marriage and family.
Sherlock Holmes is, in many ways, the prototype of the “Modern” hero — unattached, independent and disdainful of convention. He is the originator of the idea that marriage is a prison, rather than something positive, and that human relationships are a drag that get in the way of one’s work. This is explored more fully in the stories where the full extent of Holmes’s decadence is shown through his cocaine addiction, nicotine addiction, restrained menace and his cheery enjoyment of intelligent criminality. Guy Ritchie’s movie shows Holmes as someone more bizarre than this, but also more harmless and endearing.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is driven by its frenetic editing, typical of Guy Ritchie’s fast moving style, and Hans Zimmer’s vivacious gypsy-tune-laden score. It makes some sharp comments about how good old-fashioned greed can be a pivotal point in international conflict and how easily the naïve and enthusiastic can be drawn into a web of violence and extremism; but it’s not really about any of that. It’s about watching Robert Downey Jr’s Holmes as the madcap maverick adventurer, someone you’d want on your side, but not someone you’d want to be.