18 December 2011


One of my bugbears with Guy Ritchie's enjoyably daft rendition of Sherlock Holmes, a couple of years back, was that it constantly seeded the arrival of Professor Moriarty in the then-unconfirmed sequel, with far less subtlety than the hat-tip to the Joker at the end of Batman Begins, and much more of Blofeld's incognito appearances in the early Bond movies. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows actually vindicates its predecessor in that regard, by being completely worth all of that foreshadowing.

At the beginning of this sequel, Sherlock Holmes is effectively working solo, as his het life-partner Dr. John Watson is betrothed to the lovely Mary, and his on-off paramour Irene Adler continues her affiliation with a dastardly criminal mastermind. Of course, the criminal in question is Professor James Moriarty, an academic who is connected to a number of peculiar industrial accidents. When he and Holmes lock horns, Watson is snatched away from his irked bride and whisked off on an adventure, as the two quarreling detectives try to prevent the eruption of a world war.

For a while there, it appeared that the big screen series might be upstaged, because since 2009, we've seen the debut of BBC One's Sherlock, a superb series of three 90-minute features, rebooted and modernised by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss. Having now seen A Game of Shadows, it's apparent that the two versions can co-exist. Benedict Cumberbatch's Holmes solves mysteries, replete with all the usual complexities you would expect in something Moffat had concocted, whereas his contemporary on the silver screen, played by Robert Downey Jr., has smart-arsed adventures.

You see, in essence, this version of Holmes is everything that a fan might dread in a Hollywood version of the character's adventures, right down to the detective using his smarts to fight people, because fighting people looks cooler than just observing things, right? But what makes this particular Hollywood version good is that it is still unashamedly and uncompromisingly entertaining. As intellectual blockbusters go, it's hardly Inception, but neither does it simplify the characters or the story in order to condescend to a mass audience. One "Rotten" review of this film over on Rotten Tomatoes asks how this movie can be clever and idiotic at the same time, but I don't see how that's not a compliment to the boisterous, no-holds-barred entertainment value that this series has provided thus far.

With Mark Strong's sinister Lord Blackwood having warmed up the opposite position to Sherlock in the first instalment, Jared Harris steps into the breach as a cold and methodical Moriarty. At one point, Brad Pitt was tipped to play this fiendish adversary, but Harris is above and beyond, and on particularly devillish form when pitted directly against Downey. The other major new addition to the cast is Stephen Fry, whose casting as Mycroft is simply perfect. His benevolent ribbing of his younger brother, nicknaming him Shirley and frowning upon his energetic pursuits, fits right in with the mild camp on which Ritchie's interpretation hinges.

Downey and Jude Law crystallise their terrific performances as Holmes and Watson, and their banter continues to keep the film aloft through its considerably slower pace. That said, it's disheartening that a studio film with this much bromantic bonhomie still sees fit to waste Noomi Rapace and Rachel McAdams on giving Sherlock a case of the not-gays, as they might call it on Red Letter Media. While this problem is held over from the first film, Ritchie finesses other flaws, such as the arduous repetition of Holmes' cognitive fighting, by shortening sequences with which we're already familiar, and otherwise finding new things to do with the character's newfound sense of violent ESP.

The reinvention of Guy Ritchie in these two films is nothing short of astounding, because what he brings to the table is a look and a style, which are completely distinctive from any other blockbuster series currently in operation. Pacing wise, there are few things in the 130 minute running time that might not be made quicker by a stringent editor, but the crucial thing that makes these films so good is that no matter how quickly or slowly it's moving, I'm enjoying every bit of it. I enjoy the audacious action scenes, I enjoy the banter between the characters, and I enjoy the fact that the plot turns on devices that are very obviously signposted, rather than on more deductive measures. That's not to say that I don't enjoy Cumberbatch's deductions, but that I also enjoy the more rollicking variety.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows picks up where the first one left off, and sets off running like it's never been away. That might seem paradoxical for a film that feels so slow, but behind that confidence to take it slowly is a boundless energy that is hugely infectious and entertaining. If Moffat's version, which returns to television on New Year's Day, is meant to be more intellectual, there's no reason why you shouldn't enjoy a more kinetic Sherlock as well. And when the credits roll on this assuredly superior sequel, there is not a single trace of fatigue about this new interpretation- I'm already dying to see part three.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, why not share your comments below?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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