Music Feature

Film Review: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

by Piers Marchant
Holmes and Moriarty should have been smart enough to avoid this.

Dir. Guy Richie
Score: 4.5

The first Guy Richie-helmed Sherlock Holmes was almost shockingly entertaining. With a crafty, engaging script by Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham and Simon Kinberg, outstanding performances from leads Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, and Mark Strong, and the twisted atmospherics of Richie's vision of 19th century London, the film was both rollicking and -- at least in limited bouts -- contemplative of its hero protagonist. For purists, with its bare-chested Holmes breaking rib cages while throwing out bon mots, it was regrettable, but for everyone else it successfully paid homage to the character while venturing into something at least slightly new. It was also lightning in a bottle, at least in light of the sequel, which does away with much of the wit and complexity of mystery -- the very basis of the Holmesian narrative -- and replaces it with an endless parade of over-the-top set pieces and helter-skelter bombast.

The film opens with Holmes (Downey Jr.) knee-deep on the trail of a dark and shadowy nemesis only alluded to in the first film, Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris), whose brilliance and ruthlessness are meant to counter Holmes' keen intellect and morality. The trail of the evil Cambridge professor leads Holmes, the newly married Watson (Law), and a small band of gypsies lead by Madam Simza (Noomi Rapace, sans dragon tattoos), across great arcs of western Europe, encountering many would-be henchmen and a cadre blistering CGI explosions along the way. The film's climax takes place, naturally enough, in Switzerland, where Holmes is finally able to engage Moriarty on something like his own terms.

While not entirely devoid of the humor and craft of the first film, it's far too reliant on keeping a breakneck pace and constantly shifting locales to hold much in the way of interest. As a result, it never seems to take a breath, throwing one obstacle after another at Holmes and his intrepid companions, without ever letting the audience in on the great detective's inner mind, one of the more successful elements of the original movie. For every good line (Holmes describes horses as "trouble on both ends and crafty in the middle"), there's a large dollop of undistinguished action scenes, all lobbying for our immediate gratification. Worst of all, Moriarty, Holmes' self-proclaimed "greatest challenge" never rises above the level of popcorn villainy with an unkempt beard, offering all the pomposity but little of the searing intellect that would give Holmes a real run for his money. It might seem on the surface as if it's a hard working crowd-pleaser, but someone should have told the filmmakers the benefits of setting their own agenda with audiences, rather than catering to their every whim.

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