Beneath the usual leaps in logic for action purposes, there is a maniacal brilliance in the new cinematic world created for Sherlock Holmes. He may be far from how he was dreamt up by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but director Guy Ritchie's version has a hypnotic, surprisingly suspenseful overtone that manages to overwhelm the pure ridiculousness happening on screen.
In "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows," we have all the elements of the popular original, only with a memorable villain that elevates Sherlock above being just a narcissistic Scotland Yard inspector. Though still limited by the action movie formula, "A Game of Shadows" is a clever little action-thriller with a great performance from Jared Harris and quite a few big laughs.
The first thing you need to do when heading into a movie like "A Game of Shadows" is to leave reality behind. As Sherlock Holmes, Robert Downey Jr. plays a courageously eccentric genius who would be slammed in the nut house as soon as he stepped into public in the real world. His life is a crazy mess filled with ticking bombs, masterly villains and men with knives that want to kill him. Though you might think being the greatest sleuth in history might be fun, Sherlock hardly has time to breathe in between near-death experiences and stopping a madman from starting a world war.
His only real companion is Dr. Watson (Jude Law), a stern compatriot who excuses Sherlock's pure insanity because he sees the brilliance it produces. Though Sherlock envisions a never-ending set of dangerous adventures between the two, Dr. Watson would rather marry and get to work on raising a family, leaving Sherlock in the dust. Sherlock and Watson's odd friendship remains packed with funny one-liners and a running gag about their potential homosexuality, which breaks up the many action sequences and provides some of the funniest moments in the movie.
But losing his sidekick only gives Sherlock more time to focus on the task at hand, and that's tracking down the ominous Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris). Taken from Doyle's novels, Moriarty is every bit Sherlock's equal in brilliance and foresight, making him a perfect enemy for the ego-maniacal Sherlock. As France and Germany creep towards potential world war, Sherlock begins to suspect that Moriarty might just be pulling the strings for his own financial benefit.
As Moriarty, Harris gives a commanding performance as a villain who seems to have made all the calculations already and looks at the world with a cold gaze an endless sense of smug amusement. With his calm, coldly condescending tone, Harris helps create a bad guy who would fit in well with the best of the Bond villains, characters that always believed they were three steps ahead of the hero. As we see Moriarty's sophisticated plot unfold, Sherlock finally has an opponent worthy of his genius.
Luckily for Holmes, he isn't completely on his own, as he crosses paths with a beautiful Gypsy (Noomi Rapace) who just so happens to be looking for Moriarty as well. One of the other nice additions is his brother Mycroft (Stephen Fry), a meandering elitist who manages to shed some light on Sherlock's odd development. While Sherlock seems to enjoy dressing up as a woman for the sake of a disguise, Mycroft has a funny way of announcing nudist tendencies to unsuspecting guests. Clearly neither brother is playing with a full deck.
It takes a little while to get used to seeing Sherlock Holmes turned into a James Bond-style action hero, but the movie makes a point to shroud the experience with genuine mystery befitting the character. As Sherlock collects clues and tries to figure out Moriarty's next move, the movie makes a point to stop and remember that Sherlock is a sleuth and not Bruce Willis in "Die Hard." Though the plot is so curvy that it's very difficult to predict, it's fun to watch Sherlock go up against a villain that seems to have predicted his every move.
"A Game of Shadows" even has the nerve to expect the audience to know a little bit about history to fully understand the plot, which is the type of thing that's usually a no-no for big-budget action movies. As ridiculous as the action itself actually is, "A Game of Shadows" has some good commentary on the inevitability of war between industrialized nations, which would have been a big topic in the decades leading up to World War I. Two world wars and many conflicts later, it's hard to argue that the villainous Moriarty doesn't have a point.
"Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" isn't a groundbreaking thriller but a movie that thrives within the rigid boundaries of the action formula and delivers one of the best villains in recent years. Despite a weak first act and some dragged out action sequences, "A Game of Shadows" is a humorous, energetic sequel that ends up as one of the most unique commercial movies of 2011. If you can get through the zany action logic that has Dr. Watson shooting machine guns and Sherlock Holmes surviving countless gunfights and explosions, you'll see that there is quite a lot to admire.
by RTT Staff Writer
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