One thing I do seem to recall about the first Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr. is that my review for it was perhaps the longest I’ve ever written for this newsletter. Go figure. This time I’ll endeavor to be more pithy.
Game of Shadows clumsily picks up the thread laid out so deliberately in Film Number One–that is, Sherlock Holmes’ impending confrontation with his famous arch-nemesis, Professor Moriarty. I say clumsily, for the crucial MacGuffin from the preceding film–a radio-controlled bomb detonator, quite an exotic gadget in the Victorian Age–plays little discernable role in the sequel. Still, it’s no wonder that director Guy Ritchie left Moriarty’s proper appearance (now played in full daylight by Mad Men‘s Jared Harris–son of Richard) till now–no doubt he was attempting to emulate The Dark Knight‘s trick of saving the classic bad guy for the second installment.
Most re-inventions of the Holmes story, like this one, seem to place an inordinate importance on the figure of Moriarty, who really only showed up twice in all of Arthur Conan Doyle‘s stories, and was introduced solely as a means of killing off Holmes. So scarce was his presence that his status as a criminal mastermind is reported only by Holmes himself, a fact which lent itself nicely to Nicholas Meyer‘s novel and film The Seven Percent Solution, in which a paranoid, drug-addled Holmes only imagined the innocent Moriarty to be an evil genius. In this version, the Professor is plotting to incite a major mechanized European War, years before such a thing would “naturally” occur with that whole Archduke assassination thing. This sort of diabolical scheme is typical of the snarky 21st Century hindsight that’s so pervasive in the Downey Holmes films, not to mention being essentially a repeat of the evil plot from 1999’s Wild Wild West.
One of the great strengths of Ritchie’s first Holmes was the eccentric and exquisite texture with which he painted 19th Century London. Game of Shadows tries to carry this flavor across the Channel to the Continent, where the bromantically entangled Holmes and Watson (Jude Law, still one of the highlights here) join forces with a gypsy fortune teller (Noomi Rapace, in a mostly unnecessary and wasted role) whose brother may hold the key to the sinister goings-on.
Downey continues to play Holmes as a hapless, brawling genius. I still can’t say he strikes a very “Holmesian” figure as I’ve always imagined him, but his interpretation does no real harm to the character. This is, after all, only intended as a semi-literate big budget action film, and as that it succeeds in being moderately good fun. If you prefer your Sherlock Holmes smart and classic, you should look no further than Benedict Cumberbatch in the BBC’s excellent series Sherlock. Despite being set in present-day 21st Century London, Steven Moffat‘s brilliant reinvention of the character really nails the spirit of Doyle’s adventures. – [DVD] [Blu-Ray]
DVD Release Date: 6/12/12