Friday, 27 April 2012

Film Review: Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows

Certificate: 12A (intense sequences of violence and action, some drug material)
Directed By: Guy Ritchie
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Jared Harris, Noomi Rapace, Rachel McAdams, Kelly Reilly, Stephen Fry
Budget: $125 million
Runtime: 129 minutes
Trailer: Watch

After the mega success of 2009's Sherlock Holmes it is hardly surprising that Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law should reprise their roles and rekindle their latent bromance. This time round Holmes (Downey Jr) must connect a spate of terrorist attacks which threaten to plunge Europe into war with the well respected Professor Moriarty (Harris) suspected of being behind it all.

The immediate distinction of A Game Of Shadows from the first film is its scope. It is a globe-trotting adventure which takes Holmes from London to Paris to Germany, only to end in Reichenbach Falls - a site familiar to those acquainted with Arthur Conan Doyle's novels. The problem with this however is that its grand ambition causes the plot to lose sight of itself in a way which sacrifices the deductive reasoning for which Holmes is famed. Where the first film was at least coherently intricate enough, here the pieces of the puzzle are clunkily positioned for Holmes to assemble. For all intents and purposes the first film was in many ways 'cleverer' where here everything feels strangely disjointed, which is a little disappointing given the precedence. Likewise the puzzle itself hardly seems befitting of the supreme intellect that Moriarty, "the Napoleon of crime", is said to command in Doyle's novels. Where the original Sherlock Holmes enjoyed playing intellectual tricks on its audience, this is an altogether more straightforward affair.

What director Guy Ritchie has done is try to bring James Bond into nineteenth-century Victorian Britain as action takes priority. A Game Of Shadows features more brawls with assassins and slow-motion action sequences which, while still looking cool, serve to dilute their purpose. Indeed, slow-motion is ostensibly used to illustrate Holmes' powers of perception which was used to great effect in the first outing, but here it is used too unsparingly to the point where it loses meaning. It is literally more, much more, of the same which manifests in a general feeling of lacklustre. The mechanics of sprightly spontaneity which made the original such a success are no longer fresh which consequently casts a shroud of inevitability over events. Indeed, one won't be nearly as enjoyably surprised as before.

A Game Of Shadows is a prime example of overemphasis on style which causes the plot to suffer and undermine the actors' sinew. Noomi Rapace for example is criminally underdeveloped, merely hanging around without adding anything to proceedings. Likewise, there is a tangible sense that Holmes and Watson (Law) are just itching to release their unbridled intellects but are just cut short by another relentless action sequence. While admittedly the first film was also foremost an action film, at least it left room for intellectual pondering. Here Ritchie has sought to blunt that notion which is disappointing ultimately because it is Holmes' cerebral abilities which we celebrate, not his brawn.

This might seem a little harsh on A Game Of Shadows as despite all of this it is still undeniably good fun. This is primarily down to two outstanding performances. Of course, Downey Jr's portrayal of Holmes is once again enjoyable in a manner similar to that of Depp's Jack Sparrow. Eccentric and flamboyant as always, he bears uncanny resemblance to his other anchor role of Tony Stark in Iron Man. However, it would be fair to say that Holmes is ultimately the more toothsome of the two to watch. While both are unmatched geniuses with unrestrained egos, Holmes displays more humanity than Stark which makes him easier to relate to. For all Holmes' brilliance, he is also a much more vividly damaged human being like the rest of us. It is also worth noting Stephen Fry's enjoyable little cameo as Holmes' brother, a high-up official in the British Foreign Office who is unusually nihilistic for one involved in the formalities of diplomacy and high-politics.

Perhaps more deserving of credit however is one Jared Harris who is outstanding in his portrayal of arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty. Harris is no stranger to the role of nutty professor, also having been delectable as evil genius David Robert Jones in TV series Fringe. The best bits of A Game Of Shadows inevitably occur when the two behemoth intellects of Holmes and Moriarty clash, but unfortunately this is not something which happens often enough. If anything Harris, probably the best thing about the film, suffers like many characters here and is disappointingly underused.

Still, despite the flaws this isn't wholly disappointing. It is confident and amusing and this serves well to mask many of its problems. The main problem with A Game Of Shadows though is that it tries to be both beauty and brains. It's incessant insistance on luxuriously choreographed action sequences form tears in the fabric of what Holmes is supposed to be about; his smarts. And as one might deduce, God doesn't give with both hands.