Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows – The Review
Robert Downey Jr. steps once again into the shoes of literature’s most shrewd and cunning detective, accompanied by his partner Dr. Watson who is portrayed magnificently by the talented Jude Law. Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows, the sequel to the highly acclaimed 2009 film, paints a tale of mystery, conspiracy, friendship and an unrelenting battle of wit. Director Guy Ritchie again manages to stay true to Arthur Conan Doyle’s original depiction of Holmes whilst adding his own adjustments that makes the movie feel at home in 2011. Despite being an extremely astute character who is many steps ahead of anyone else, Holmes doesn’t distract from the sense of tension and turmoil in the story which permits the danger to feel very real, under which circumstances Holmes brilliant mind shines even further. Robert Downey Jr. plays a very loveable and accessible iteration of the detective and is truly believable in the role. The film carefully balances action with intelligence and, although there is a liberal sprinkling of Victorian mannerisms, the quick-witted banter and core values are never lost in translation.
It is 1891 and England is under siege amidst extreme political tension. A series of bomb attacks have been staged across London and Governmental paranoia is looking to blame foreign powers, however Sherlock Holmes has ideas of his own and is looking a little closer to home. Following the clues to Paris, the partnership realise that solving the mystery is paramount if they want to prevent a world war. We are quickly acquainted to Holmes- his eccentricity and his genius- and immediately plunged into the main conspiracy of the plot. Even if you haven’t seen the previous films or read the books, Ritchie does a very good job at quickly making you feel as if you know the character. His quirkiness is realised almost from the outset where he dons an interesting disguise and adorns his flat with a rain forest while his mental acuteness becomes clear in a trademark slow motion fight scene. The adventure introduces us to Holmes’ arch-enemy, Professor James Moriarty, who presents a far more worthy opponent than the previous villain. With a sharp intelligence to match even the great Holmes, Moriarty obscures the ability to tell who is holding all the cards which makes for a far more suspenseful conflict. Once again, the chemistry between Holmes and Watson is captured perfectly and their powerful bond is obvious in the fact that, despite just being wed, Watson is spending his honeymoon with Holmes. To begin with this is against his better judgement but later it is clear there is nowhere else he’d rather be…not even Brighton!
A Game Of Shadows, although being set in the latter part of the 19th century, has a very modern edge. The costume designs and location are very 19th century, but the many explosions, gun fights and slow-mo scenes give it a very anachronistic style, which works exceedingly well. It is this contrast between the expectations of a Victorian-age film and the frequent use of special effects that makes the film feel aptly vibrant, reflecting the enchanting uniqueness of Holmes. What’s more, very few films can claim to make even the simple action of firing a gun into a spectacular cinematic. This is achieved in part by the dark backdrop but mostly by the use of slow motion capture. This form of video photography makes a welcomed return and blends seemlessly with the action. The biggest instance of this is a high-octane escape sequence in a forest which sees bullets grazing past the characters and the details of violent explosions. It is also used ingeniously in simple fight-scenes. Ritchie uses a device in which he will play a sequence of actions in slow motion, while individual moves and strategies are narrated by Holmes, which is then generally followed by the same fight sequence in quick time. As well as being a very impressive effect, it also lets the audience further understand Holmes’ quickness of thought and innate ability to almost instantly evaluate the situation around him. Presenting this side of Holmes correctly is key to capturing the essence of the character, and Ritchie’s method does this perfectly.
Of course, Holmes’ intellect does not lie primarily in combat, and the film is sure to recognise this. There are several occasions where you are certain Sherlock is on the back foot, but sure enough he has cleverly planned and it is extremely satisfying to see his plan come together. Fortunately, Ritchie has managed to portray this in a way that doesn’t feel convoluted and it is easy enough for the viewer to believe that Holmes’ would have had the ingenuity to carry out his brilliant plans. It certainly comes close to crossing that line, but luckily it never does. Holmes’ does present his intellect often during conflict, but as the story builds up to its conclusion, his genius doesn’t simply shine in a final combat scene but more so in the way his many ideas have come together- which is the best way around as that is what Holmes is and should be known for.
There is also a humorous accent to the film, characterised mostly in the relationship between Holmes and Watson. In addition, we are introduced to Holmes’ brother Mycroft, played by Stephen Fry, who affectionately calls his brother “Sherley”. There is a unique banter, which at times can be fairly dry and have a Victorian satirisation, but it is almost never lost on the audience. The film rarely shies away from the era’s traditional dialogue and while that may seem like a barrier, it doesn’t hinder the experience. The film’s Victorian style never feels superficial, despite the heavy use of special effects. There may be a few instances of artistic license, but the overall atmosphere feels wholly real. That said, there are occasions where things are not expressed in speech as well as they could be for consumption of the audience, but in most cases these are accompanied by appropriate scenes to clarify. Without someone walking you through each scene, the film is easy enough to follow. There will be points where you are utterly confused, but those moments are soon backed up by clarification which is a formula that lends itself very well to Holmes’ extraordinary character.
This really is a great film. Holmes is fighting against someone as talented as himself, which exposes a vulnerable side to the exceptional detective. It also defines the sides of light and dark. These are men of equal mental ability, who have chosen very different paths. It feels that rather than trying to second guess a clearly inferior enemy, it seems Holmes needs to second guess himself, which allows for an incredible battle of intelligence which transcends the more explicit action sequences. If you enjoyed the first film you’ll love the sequel. This is more of the twists, suspense and “Wow, that was clever” moments that made Sherlock Holmes such a great film, but with a wider scope, added depth and even more amazing acts of genius. Holmes and Moriarty are both playing an elaborate game of chess that may well define the future of world power. As move after move is seemingly countered, the audience is unsure as to who will make the final check-mate…
I’d definitely recommend this film!
Thanks for reading 🙂