Sherlock Holmes has had quite a re-emergence in the media in the past couple of years. Between the Guy Ritchie directed Sherlock Holmes in 2009 and the modern adaptation by Stephen Moffat in 2010, the world’s only consulting detective created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has found a new modern popularity. Now with Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and the second series of Sherlock, that popularity is set to continue. This blog in particular concerns A Game of Shadows, which features Robert Downey Jr. returning as the titular detective.
Naturally, there are spoilers that follow. In short, the film is a fine follow up to its predecessor and especially shines in its cast and its action.
A Game of Shadows takes place not very long after the previous film. John Watson (Jude Law) has moved out of 221B and is preparing to marry Mary Morstan (Kelly Reilly) and Sherlock Holmes (Downey) has been heavily investigating Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris), who’s crimes had been hinted at during the previous film. As Moriarty begins to bring his plans to fruition, the duo finds themselves banding together for one last adventure that takes place all over Europe.
Like many of Doyle’s stories, the events in this film are not dependent on the previous film. In fact, the biggest tie to the previous film is killed off in the first ten minutes. If you haven’t seen the first one, it will be no problem to go into this one and enjoy it.
As previously mentioned, one of the biggest strengths of this film is the cast. Downey and Law are a fantastic Holmes and Watson. They play off of each other perfectly and demonstrate just how dynamic the relationship between the detective and the doctor is. More fandom oriented viewers may see a more romantic side to this relationship, but it certainly isn’t unfounded. Multiple times during the movie, I did wonder to myself if the two were finally going to kiss…
Taking the place of Rachel McAdams’ Irene Adler as the female lead is Noomi Rapace as Sim, a Romani fortune teller who was an anarchist in France before the events of the film. Rapace is most known for her portrayal of Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish film adaptation of The Millennium Trilogy, which I hope to review for a future blog. In her first English speaking role, Rapace provides a quiet and strong character who creates an interesting addition to the Holmes/Watson partnership as they travel across Europe in search of her brother Rene, who has become of a major part of Moriarty’s game.
As for the new Mrs. Watson, Reilly continues to bring a certain brightness to the role of Mary. Here, she seems somewhat more tolerant of Holmes’ madness and even helps bring Moriarty to justice by the end of the film. Mrs. Morstan-Watson, I always did think you to be brilliant.
Rounding out the main cast is Harris as the villain Moriarty and British national treasure Stephen Fry as Mycroft Holmes. While Moriarty is quite literally the archetypical mad scientist, Harris plays him here with a frightening subtlety. At some points, Moriarty seems like a quiet and charismatic professor, but then there are moments where he becomes the scariest thing ever put on celluloid. I will never see Schubert in the same way (but more on that in a bit). Fry, however, has a quietly humorous performance that balances well against Downey as his younger brother. It’s not very atypical for Fry, but I don’t think I’d have it any other way. Just be prepared to see more of Fry than you’re probably expecting. Literally and figuratively.
Outside of the acting, the action in the film is top notch. If you’ve seen the previous film, you have an idea of how this film will move. However, the ante has been upped and there are several parts of the film that feel like we are inside Holmes’ head. In particular, there’s a scene in a German forest where Holmes, Watson, and the group of Romani are running from soldiers at a weapons plant. The action alternates between moving quickly and time slowing down as mortars are being fired. It’s suspenseful and beautifully shot.
There is also the return of Holmes’ narration as he analyzes and explains the attack he’s going to make. I adore these sequences not only for the way they are shot, but for how much they characterize Holmes. The best turn of this comes at the end when in his final fight against Moriarty, Moriarty himself joins in on the narration and breaks down the moves he will make. This shows that he is at Holmes’ level, if not higher. This will be a delight to Doyle fans, who will recognize the similarities this film has with ‘The Final Problem’.
Another element that delighted me was how much music is incorporated into this story. The score by Hans Zimmer is top notch and continues the themes from the previous film’s score. It’s epic, playful, and sounds like it should be played in a 19th Century pub. However, this time, there are also many Romani elements present to compliment Sim and her group. There is also a very heavy incorporation of opera into the narrative. Moriarty’s obsession with Schubert and ‘Die Forelle’ leads to not only one of the most frightening moments of the film, but a great gag later on when Holmes bests Moriarty. There is also suspensful use of Mozart’s Don Giovanni as the trio of Holmes, Watson, and Sim try to stop a bombing in France.
Fans of Holmes, especially Guy Ritchie’s vaguely steampunk vision of the character, shall enjoy this film. It’s properly action packed while staying faithful to the spirit of Doyle’s texts as well as his trademark character. If the end of this film is any hint, this will not be the final problem for this incarnation of Holmes.