Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Director Guy Ritchie
Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law
Review by Wayne C. Rogers
I suppose the talent and skills of Sherlock Holmes is called for here because on one level I loved the new movie, Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows, and on another I felt somewhat disappointed.
Confusing, isn’t it?
Let me begin by discussing the things I have mixed feelings about, and there will probably be a number of spoilers here, so don’t read any further if you don’t want to know.
First, I’m a big fan of Rachel McAdams (have been since The Notebook first came out at the theaters) who plays Irene Adler, the only woman Sherlock Holmes has ever loved and probably the only female he considers to be his equal. I knew she had a short role in this film. What I didn’t expect was for her to be killed off by Professor Moriarty in the first fifteen minutes. Of course, when the screenplay for the third film is written, she can always be brought back to life. Hollywood is good like that. Still, it troubled me that she was killed off so simply, without a struggle of any kind. Irene Adler is a fighter and should have gone out with a flourish, instead of dying from poison in her tea. That was a little weak. If she was going to be killed off, she should have gone out with panache and big bang. To be truthful, I really wanted to see more of Rachel McAdams in future movies about Sherlock Holmes. Their playful interaction with each other was part of what made the first film so successful. Their characters also make an excellent match with each other.
Second, it’s been nearly forty years since I read the short story, “The Final Problem,” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and I’d forgotten about Mycroft Holmes, the older brother of Sherlock Holmes. He had a small role in the story, but a somewhat larger one in the movie and is perfect for showing up at the right time when needed, like when Watson’s wife is thrown off the train by Holmes in an effort to save her from Moriarty’s wrath.
Third, Professor Moriarty (played by Jared Harris – I loved him as Captain Mike in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) seemed out of place in the second film. Jared Harris played Moriarty with utter excellence. I mean he was Professor Moriarty down to the last dot and tee. I think the studio should have waited and used Moriarty for maybe the third or fourth film, building the tension between him and Holmes, creating an aura of suspense and avid expectation for the audience. I know, Moriarty was only in one Holmes’ story, but still he’s a great villain and his role should have been stretched out for a few more films. Also, I don’t remember Moriarty being a professor at one of England’s universities while doing his evil deeds throughout Europe. Even though he’s a genius, it still takes time to prepare lesson plans for your classes, make up tests, grade homework papers, etc. When did Moriarty find the time to create a life as a mastermind of crime?
Last, and more importantly for me, I don’t know why but I expected Holmes and Moriarty to have a fight to the death with swords at Reichenbach Falls at the end of the movie. There was no swordfight in the story, but for some strange reason I was expecting something like the dueling scene between Tyrone Power and Basil Rathbone in The Mark of Zorro. Where my mind was, I don’t know. It certainly would’ve been a more powerful ending for the film. They could’ve had the most famous fencing sequence in movie history, but didn’t take it.
Anyway, all the above complaints are minor and really have more to do with me than the movie itself.
Now, on to the good things and there are many.
Both Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law do what I think is their absolute best acting in the Sherlock Holmes movies, which is saying a lot considering how many excellent roles they have played in the past. They definitely shine in these roles. Whatever the actors are being paid, it’s not enough. I have to say it’s been a sincere pleasure watching Robert Downey’s career blossom from his role in Less Than Zero to Chaplin and then Iron Man and now Sherlock Holmes, not to mention his ups and downs with life in general. He is now one of the best American actors performing today, and I see an Oscar looming on the horizon for him.
I’ve also been watching Jude Law since his performance in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. This is a British actor who simply keeps getting better and better with each movie he’s in. Jude is the Richard Harris of the present generation. I see an Oscar for him, too, at some point in the future. Needless to say, both actors bring the characters of Holmes and Watson alive in ways that far out shine the original stories. I like these guys and want to spend time with them in each new Sherlock Holmes movie. They’re fun and they make me laugh with their constant bantering, yet they also have a strong love for each other as brothers in arms.
Guy Ritchie, the director, has certainly brought new life to the cinema characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. He knows exactly how to make the storylines work and how to convey information to the audience without boring them to death. Mr. Ritchie has succeeded where other talented directors might have failed in their attempt to resurrect these two famous fictional and film characters from the past. I hope Mr. Ritchie will continue on as the director for the third and fourth films. I see at least two more coming in the future.
I have to also give credit to the cinematographer, the editor of the movie, the production designer, the people who handled the art and set direction, and the many hands involved with the visual and special effects. They did a magnificent job of creating England and Europe in the late Eighteen Hundreds. Everything looked perfect and had me believing that I was actually living in the past for those two wonderful hours and involved with the stopping of a major world war. This film deserves to win several Academy Awards for this very fact alone.
What about the storyline of the movie for those who haven’t seen it or read the story?
Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows is loosely based on what was supposed to be the final story in the Sherlock Holmes collection, The Final Problem. Doyle wanted to write more serious fiction and so killed off Holmes in this story. Unfortunately, as most writers learn, when you create a successful character in a long-running series, the fans do have something to say if you try to end it. Doyle was forced to bring Holmes back to life in The Hounds of the Baskervilles.
As I said, the movie follows the story somewhat loosely. Sherlock Holmes is after Professor Moriarty, suspecting that the criminal mastermind is up to something on a rather grand scale. Moriarty certainly is. He wants to start a world war so he can provide the armaments for it and thereby become RICH. To stop Holmes in his investigation, Moriarty threatens to kill Watson and his new wife, going after them with a vengeance. This only inspires both Watson and Holmes to pursue the evil genius with more rigor and determination.
There are a number of exciting fight sequences in the movie, especially the one which involves the gypsy, Madam Simza Heron (played by Noomi Rapace) and Moriarty’s attempt to kill her. That was an extremely intense and mind-numbing scene that I want to watch over when the DVD finally comes out. Some of the action sequences happened so fast that I found myself missing part of them as I attempted to adjust to what was happening.
Professor Moriarty also has an evil henchman, Colonel Moran (played by Paul Anderson), who carries out most of the assassinations in the movie. This is an ex-Army sniper who can take out a life without even blinking an eye. He’s determined to stop Holmes and Watson from diverting his boss’s plan by killing them. Good luck is all I have to say. Paul Anderson does a marvelous job of portraying someone equally as evil as Moriarty.
The film is very fast paced and filled excitement and humor all the way through. Once Holmes tosses Watson’s wife off the speeding train, the good doctor never lets him forget it throughout the movie. There’s also a sequence involving Holmes and his fear of horses, which brings about several belly laughs from the audience. This is a mark on just how talented an actor Robert Downey Jr. is. He can carry off a humorous scene while staying in total character and never once winking at the camera.
I’m now awaiting the arrival of the DVD for Sherlock Holmes: Games of Shadows. That and the first movie will have to hold me until the third one comes out, which I hope will be in the next two years. This is definitely a film worth seeing on the big screen first with repeated viewings on the smaller one.
As Holmes would say, “The game is afoot, Dear Watson.”