Page to Screen: Sherlock Holmes — Game of Shadows (2011)

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
based on the Sherlock Holmes canon by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Despite my excitement over the first trailer, I kind of forgot this movie came out. It didn’t even register until Friday evening; I immediately tried to wrangle someone into going with me. I eventually went with my father (whose favorite joke concerning Jude Law is that he is in everything) last night. As I mentioned in my review, I absolutely adored the first film, and I was quite looking forward to more bromantic antics from Robert Downey Jr.’s Holmes, who is hanging onto sanity and acceptable social behavior by the skin of his teeth, and Jude Law’s Watson, who has the patience of a saint.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows picks up a few months after the first film. Sherlock Holmes’ investigations into the activities of a one Professor James Moriarty have gotten the criminal mastermind’s attention—who is now bent on causing war and destroying the recently married Watsons to get at Holmes. With the help of Simza, a Romani woman whose brother is at Moriarty’s mercy, Holmes and Watson are on the case again—and it just might be the most important case of their lives…

While the film does a good job of introducing the usual suspects (although I think the film cruelly uses my beloved Irene—I expect her back in better condition next film, Ritchie!), the tone, pacing, and action of the last film are all turned up to eleven here. It threw me for quite a loop. It’s much more expansive, as Holmes, Watson, and Simza spend a lot of time traversing Europe, and the action scenes feel faster than ever. There’s also lot more story to cram in two hours. There’s more violence and more of a focus on landscapes; while we dip into the urban Gothic that Richie captures so well from the novels, it’s at the beginning, rather than at the end. It’s not unpleasant, simply different, in a way I wasn’t expecting from a sequel to one of my favorite films.

The cast remains as fantastic as ever. Without Watson, Holmes has become nuttier than a fruit cake, drinking embalming fluid, terrorizing Mrs. Hudson, and manically focusing on Moriarty. What I’ve always loved about Downey Jr.’s Holmes is the fact that he captures just how weird Holmes is, even if he isn’t exactly the physical type, and he absolutely hits that here. Jude Law’s Watson remains dry, capable, and patient, although Holmes drives him to drink more often here. Their relationship remains as co-dependent as ever, if not more—I’m starting to seriously think that this Holmes is in love with Watson (in his own way), who, quite obviously, does not return it. I’ll probably elaborate on this in a Sunday Salon sometime soon; I have a lot of feelings about his feelings. Noomi Rapace’s Simza is a lovely addition, a very active woman devoted to her brother, while Kelly Reilly’s Mary remains as perfect as ever, with more to do here. Jared Harris’ Moriarty is absolutely chilling (and very well-matched for Downey Jr’s Holmes), and Stephen Fry is a delightfully minor Mycroft.

I’ve never seen any of Ritchie’s other films, so I can’t compare, but the action sequences here are much more ambitious. I’m still pondering whether or not they all work, but there are two that absolutely do. The first occurs when Holmes and Simza fight a Cossack sent to murder her; Holmes begins his usual analyzation of the situation, but is constantly thrown by Simza changing up the routine. It also occurs on every possible level of a gentlemen’s club (it’s supposed to be Watson’s stag party), which is quite nice. The second is their escape from a gun factory, which utilizes slow motion in order to show just how devastating the weaponry is. I really enjoy how this film franchise approaches these films as intellectual action movies.

The writing, however, has suffered a bit. Like I said, there’s more story crammed into two hours than in the last film, which means that some of Holmes’ deductions feel like they come out of nowhere—while my dad was surprised at some business about a notebook, I was taken aback by Holmes’ conclusions concerning a pair of twin mooks we barely got a good look at. It’s busier and messier. While the dialogue remains as sparkling as ever (there’s a particularly good line about Holmes’ fear of horses, which is noncanonical to the best of my knowledge), it’s not as tightly plotted as the first film. It does, however, adhere to the stories a bit more—particularly “The Final Problem” and the general matter of Watson’s authorship.

Bottom line: More expansive, messier, and not as well written as the first film, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows still remains a fun, intelligent action film with a lovely cast. Worth a watch.

I saw this film in theaters.

3 thoughts on “Page to Screen: Sherlock Holmes — Game of Shadows (2011)

  1. Pingback: At The Movies: The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) | The Literary Omnivore

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