Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows3.5 Stars

Once upon a time I was bitten by a radioactive spider….no, sorry, wrong origin story…Once upon a time, I was using the “Flixster” app on Facebook, and reviewing all the movies that I watched there.  The application was neat at the time, but has changed since, and I really don’t use it anymore.  Essentially, it would pop up what movies were coming out either to theatres or to DVD that week, and you could tag them as “want to see” or “not interested”; and give a star rating and review when you had seen them.  These various reviews and rankings would be visible to your friends also using the app.  When I was using this, I started off slowly, but eventually built up some speed.  I started writing the sort of reviews on Flixster that I now write here.  Thanks to the urging of several friends who did read and enjoy those reviews, I now have this blog.  What all does this have to do with Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, you may be asking?  Well, it has been a while since I saw the original Guy Ritchie Holmes film, so I decided tonight to see if I could track down my old review.  I gave the film 3.5 stars, and here is the review I wrote:

scared of this one (Dec 2009)  – this was my note before I had seen it
Okay, now I saw it, and it was pretty good.  Fun, definitely a re-imagination of Holmes.  Still nobody beats Jeremy Brett IMHO.

As I said, I started off slowly writing my reviews….I may not have said it, but I do remember a few things that I did not like about the original film; and I think I’ll be able to touch upon the issues as I review the sequel, seeing whether or not they have improved my personally perceived shortcomings of the original.  To be fair, I think I may have to give the original another watch to see if equal 3.5 star ratings is really valid for both.  For the sake of time, I will assume that most readers viewing this will have already seen the first film, so I may allude to some potential spoilers.

In the first film, Professor Moriarty; Holmes’ arch-nemesis from the Conan Doyle books; may have been pulling the strings, but only written into a small scene at the very end of the film; Game of Shadows focuses squarely on the “Napoleon of Crime” and his plot to plunge Europe into war.  One thing I really disliked about the first film was that there appeared to be too much green screen work; the cityscape backgrounds looked a little too CGI to me, and stood out, ruining the look and feel of the era it was meant to portray.  For the most part, it looks like that issue was both addressed and fixed in Game of Shadows.  A lot of the film also takes place away from the great cities of Europe, so that does help, but still in some scenes the buildings look a little too “crisp”.

Game of Shadows had me a little confused at times, because I recall the commercials and promos for the theatrical release seemingly playing up on the comic side of the film, with Holmes in drag, and playing up the whole nature of the Holmes-Watson relationship; the commercials that aired more recently for the DVD release of the film seemed to be playing more to the action side of the film, showcasing fights and chases and flying bullets galore.  Ironically in my last review of a Robert Downey Jr film (Avengers), I also found (and disliked) that they were giving his character too much of a comedic spin.  I’m sorry, in this case, to me that is just not Sherlock Holmes.  An aspect of film that I don’t usually focus on in my reviews is costume, but I think I need to for a minute in this one.  Almost all the costumes were very good.  Watson looked right, Mycroft looked right, Moriarty looked right, the gypsies looked very good, but sadly, the one character whose costumes and appearance did not look right to me, was Sherlock himself.  Holmes is a gentleman, he should be dressed that way, not in the “casual” attire he sported here, or in the poor disguises he paraded about in.  I suppose in a way the disguises looking poor may be a little more period accurate, as we can’t expect latex masks in Victorian England; but what frustrated me was Holmes’ lack of a razor.  Even when disguising himself as a woman he appeared to have more than just five o’clock shadow, which is something the famed sleuth, and disguise artist would not have allowed himself.  Also, I think the continuity of Sherlock’s facial hair was off at several points through the film.

I really don’t have much to say about Jude Law’s performance as Watson, he didn’t do a bad job, but he didn’t really do anything exceptional either.  Though it was not as bad as last time out, the writers were still having Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law play Holmes and Watson as a bickering married couple.  A welcome addition to the cast was Stephen Fry as Mycroft Holmes; who I’ve loved since Blackadder.  The dry wit and comic relief that he brings is very well done, since he is a proper comic actor. There is something to be said about having the right people for the right job.  Though Mycroft is not a comedic character at all in the few stories he did appear in, having an accomplished comedic actor play him, made it work.

Jared Harris (son of the late Richard Harris) as Professor Moriarty was an incredible piece of casting, and all the scenes between him and Robert Downey Jr. were intense, as they played their respective opposite sides of the same coin.  In fact, I’d say that Downey’s Holmes scenes were just that much better when he shared the screen with Harris, as opposed to the rest of the movie.  It is often said that the hero is only as good as their villain, and in Game of Shadows, Holmes is elevated when Moriarty is on the screen.

I had high hopes for Noomi Rapace in this film, but sadly she was under-used in my opinion.  I really wanted more of Madam Simza, as Rapace has become one of my favourite actresses.  Seeing that she was in the film, actually made me think about watching Game of Shadows in theatres, while everything else about it just screamed “rent it” to me.  Rapace is an excellent actress who amazed me with her portrayal of Lisbeth Salander in the original Swedish versions of the Stieg Larson, Girl With the Dragon Tattoo movies, so I was anxious to see her English language film debut, and while she was excellent, I just wish that we got more of her, as she can deliver quite the performance, and is quite attractive too.  Noomi is also in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus this summer, and I hope we get to see many more English performances from her, because the foreign ones are hard to get this side of the pond.

Guy Ritchie seems to have his own trademarks that he needs to impart on a film to make it a “Guy Ritchie” film.  In both of his Holmes pictures, we have seen the “Holmes-Vision”, where we see Holmes’ vision of a punch before he delivers it and then you see the real thing. The use of slow motion then full speed fights may have been “stylish”, but in my mind, really just seemed to pad the length of an already slowly moving film.  I found it a bit hard to swallow when it was adapted at several points in the film to give Holmes an almost precognitive sense of events that had happened, or were about to happen.  I think it was neat once, but after a while grew tiresome.  I was happy to hear several recognizable quotes from the original Holmes stories being used in the film, but one thing that they seemed to have overlooked is that Holmes was supposed to be a rather lazy fellow, who liked to solve most of his cases from his armchair, only venturing out when he needed to test his hypotheses, or when more data needed to be collected.  I know that Doyle wrote Holmes as an accomplished boxer and single stick fighter, and while this really wasn’t his claim to fame as a sleuth, apparently things still need to be spiced up for today’s audiences.

Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows was okay in my book; it fixed some of the shortcomings of the first film, as well as played right back into some of the other shortcomings.  The thing that saved this sequel was the cast of supporting characters, as they easily outdid the two leads.  And I still stand by my original review of the first film, no one has been a better Holmes than Jeremy Brett.  If you haven’t seen his portrayal and are a Sherlock fan, you really must check it out.


Posted on 12-07-01, in 3.5 Star, Movie Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Tameka Dubson

    Enjoyed looking at this, very good stuff, appreciate it. “Nothing happens to any thing which that thing is not made by nature to bear.” by Marcus Aurelius Antoninus.


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