On the last day of school of 2011, I decided to celebrate with one of my best friends by going to see a movie. Our first choice was to see New Year’s Eve – or more accurately, that was the only thing we remotely cared to see. But then we learned that this new Sherlock Holmes movie was playing, and in figuring that it was maybe a couple notches above New Year’s Eve, we decided to switch our choice. Thankfully too, for Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows proved to be a pleasantly surprising action flick/mystery, perhaps because of the very fact that we were expecting so little.
In the second installment of what I expect to be a three-part enterprise, Game of Shadows brings back the indestructible Holmes (played by the indestructible Robert Downey Jr.) along with his partner in fighting crime, Dr. John Watson (the delightfully irritated Jude Law). This time, our dynamic duo must overcome the evil doings of mad scientist Dr. Moriarty, a man whose dealings in bombings and high-tech weaponry threaten to send all of Europe onto the brink of World War. What ensues is something far from the Holmes/Watson adventures that Sir Conan Doyle initially imagined, but turns out to be nothing short of a rollicking adventure through the streets of London, a gambling house, a cross-country train, and a grey-toned forest – brimming with shootings and explosions all the way.
What one can critique about such a franchise would only sound trite and typical in nature, mostly because for what it is, this kind of movie is not looking to be high art, nor is there anything shocking about its incongruities that are worth bringing up. Rather, let me focus on what I liked about this movie, for despite its tremendous absurdities, Game of Shadows is much more articulate, well-developed and sophisticated in its plot and tone than most current-day action movies. The character of Holmes is given loving treatment by Mr. Downey Jr., and the amount of emotion and depth that is assigned to this rendition of the classic detective makes him far more accessible and relatable than Sir Conan Doyle’s original ever was. Similarly, the action sequences – while completely defying all laws of physics and shear human capacity – turn the intellectual puzzle of the classic Holmes into a wild ride that is engaging and fun.
Also worth mentioning is the exquisite production design, which recreates nineteenth-century London with artistry and life, and the direction by Guy Ritchie is solid work. Finally, in the supporting cast, Stephen Fry is most enjoyable as Holmes’ brother Mycroft, and Jared Harris provides a chillingly passive Dr. Moriarty; the scene where he clears an entire restaurant with the tinkling of his glass in especially effective (probably stolen from somewhere but hey, it works).
It is important to point out that this movie does very little in attempting to capture the essence of its source material, and if one can accept this, then they will more likely have a good time with Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows. It’s good old fashioned action grounded in good old fashioned mystery, and this along with the talents of all involved make it something more than the average holiday blockbuster – a pleasantly worthwhile movie-going experience.