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It’s a Very Guy Ritchie Holiday Season with Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

by Trey Hock on December 16, 2011

in Print Reviews,Reviews

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows extends Guy Ritchie‘s film franchise, which re-envisions the tales of that brilliant British detective. True to the Holmes stories of old, a Game of Shadows is a distinct mystery unto itself. Though characters from the first film reappear in this one, no plot lines are continued, which means newcomers shouldn’t feel lost.

Robert Downey Jr., that troubled genius that he is, reprises the role of Sherlock Holmes. Again he is manic and wonderful as the freelance solver-of-crimes. As I was watching A Game of Shadows, an interesting thought occurred to me. Perhaps it is Downey’s own personal struggles with addiction that make both his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes and Iron Man’s Tony Stark just a little more interesting. Stark’s struggle with alcohol and Holmes’ affinity for opiates rings a little more true in Downey’s capable hands. Though one doesn’t need to belabor these connections, which could be serendipitous, they help to give depth to an otherwise fun and frivolous character.

If you don’t want subtlety weighing down your holiday fun film, worry not. Ritchie, one of the more aggressive and overt visual directors today, makes sure that he bludgeons you almost to death with heavy transitions, and ruthless use of super slow motion and computer generated effects.

Often these techniques work in Ritchie’s film, resulting in a fun though guilty pleasure. Every now and then Ritchie pushes things to far, and the impressive visual ruptures the story. In one such instance after a visit from Holmes, Dr. James Moriarty (Jared Harris) pushes an enormous looming chess piece forward towards the viewer. The CG pawn towers over us, the music looms, and we move to the streets of London. It was all just a little much, and on more than one occasion I found myself craving simpler cuts over these effects infused transitions.

Ritchie’s penchant for big moments worked really well in his early work that was limited by smaller budgets. In Snatch or Lock Stock, these big moments were driven not by CG elements, or super slo-mo but the simpler techniques of fast cuts and exciting camera angles, which are usually the signs of a youthful action director. In A Game of Shadows the visuals feel a bit overworked and old.

Holmes, in Ritchie’s films, is less heady and more action-hero, always ready to sprint into the dangers that await him. A Game of Shadows‘ pace is relentless which serves the two hour film, until we get to the ending of the 2nd Act. Here, with the mystery all but solved, the film drags as our characters chase Moriarty from Paris to Germany to Switzerland, and they weigh the impossible task of stopping this villain.

Jude Law, as side kick Watson, gives an enjoyably stiff performance. His rigidness and reluctant disapproval balances Holmes’ frenetic effulgence. Perhaps the most enjoyable casting decision is the addition of Noomi Rapace as gypsy Madam Simza. Rapace, though tragically underused, brings a vibrancy to the few moments she does have on screen, and is a more capable counter to Downey and Law than Rachel McAdams, who, as always, is shamefully boring.

The mystery is solvable, the situations are often forced, and yet there is something charming about A Game of Shadows. It makes no attempt to be anything other than what it is, a fun distraction from the obligations that come with the holidays. It’s empty calories, but isn’t that what this time of year is all about?

In addition to contributing to Scene-Stealers, Trey makes short films and teaches at the Kansas City Art Institute. Follow him here:

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Reed December 16, 2011 at 2:08 am

After enduring that first one, it would take a whole lot of free ale to make me sit through another.


2 Shauna December 16, 2011 at 8:25 am

This just makes me want to see the second season of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock.


3 Eric Melin December 16, 2011 at 8:57 am

Agreed, Reed. The first one was so bombastic that I just got tired (and actually started dozing off). But after seeing real stunts in real-time (rather than the “ruthless use of super slow motion and computer generated effects.” that Trey mentioned) in M:I4, it made me realize how much I miss that. I think I might skip this one.


4 Cody December 16, 2011 at 9:52 am

I love Downey and the first movie and am excited for this one.

I do agree with Shauna above, though. I can’t wait for Series 2 of Sherlock, from the BBC. Best. Sherlock. Holmes. EVAR!


5 Alan Rapp December 16, 2011 at 2:45 pm

It’s still way too much a Guy Ritchie film than a Sherlock Holmes film (and that slow motion sequence through the woods made me want to scream). But it does work better than the first film and the mystery surrounding Moriarty works far better than the occult nonsense we got in Sherlock Holmes.

Like you, I found myself liking it almost in spite of everything Ritchie does to try and turn Sherlock Holmes from detective to action hero.


6 Cody December 16, 2011 at 8:17 pm

Saw it. Didn’t like it as much as the first. Parts of it didn’t engage me at all. Still, pretty good. Stephen Fry stole the show for me. He was great as Mycroft.


7 Mike December 30, 2011 at 10:07 pm

Hands down an amazing movie. There wasn’t a scene in the movie I didn’t enjoy. I loved all of the action scenes regardless if they had some CGI. Downey does a great job.


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