Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows / *** (PG-13)

Sherlock Holmes: Robert Downey, Jr.
Dr. John Watson: Jude Law
Madam Simza Heron: Noomi Rapace
Prof. James Moriarty: Jared Harris
Mycroft Holmes: Stephen Fry
Colonel Sebastian Moran: Paul Anderson
Mary Watson: Kelly Reilly
Mrs. Hudson: Geraldine James
Irene Adler: Rachel McAdams

Warner Bros. Pictures presents a film directed by Guy Ritchie. Written by Michele Mulroney & Kieran Mulroney. Based on the characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Running time: 129 min. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, and some drug material).

Purists complained that the Sherlock Holmes depicted by Robert Downey Jr. and company in the 2009 movie “Sherlock Homes” was not the character that lived at 221B Baker Street in four novels and many short stories by Arthur Conan Doyle. They said Downey’s eccentric, reclusive, and borderline insane interpretation of an early champion of forensic science, while entertaining, did not match Doyle’s description of his great detective. They also complained that this character, known for his ability to think through problems, had been turned into some sort of period action hero by filmmaker Guy Ritchie. These complaints notwithstanding, the first “Sherlock Holmes” was a romp of a movie that was witty and thrilling, and with “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows”, Downey and company haven’t missed a beat.

Picking up where the last one left off, “A Game of Shadows” is bookended by Dr. Watson (Jude Law, “Contagion”) writing a book based on their “final adventure” together. Holmes is still dancing with his previous romantic interest, Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams “Midnight in Paris”). She is still in the employ of her mysterious benefactor, the elusive and as sharp-witted as Holmes, Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”). London and the whole of Europe have been subject to a series of bombings that have been attributed to terrorists. Holmes has a different theory involving Moriarty, a weapons manufacturer, and the intent to send the continent into its First World War.

Dampening Holmes’s plans to gambol through Europe, chasing the clues with his trusty companion, Watson is the imminent wedding of his anchor to Mary (Kelly Reilly, “Me and Orson Welles”). Holmes sidelines Mary easily enough when Moriarty tries to preempt Holmes’s investigation by sabotaging the Watson’s honeymoon. This occurs in one of the film’s visually impressive action sequences on a train that left me wondering just what happened to all the other passengers aboard. There’s hardly time to ponder such details, though, with the non-stop pace and editing wizardry employed by director Ritchie (“Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels”).

The clues lead to a Gypsy named Madam Simza, played by the original “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” star, Noomi Rapace. Since Simza herself isn’t directly involved in Moriarty’s plot—rather her brother is—her presence really only seems necessary for the costume department to have another beautiful woman to dress exotically. I was disappointed that the screenwriting team of Michele and Kieran Mulroney couldn’t come up with more for her to do. This inauspicious U.S. debut for Rapace has me even more interested to see what she does in next summer’s “Alien” prequel, “Prometheus”.

Nevertheless, “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” is a thrilling and brainy entry into the period action genre. It plays like some of the best James Bond plots, with the fate of the world ready to be snatched by a megalomaniac criminal mastermind who is as cool as his plot is diabolical. Harris makes for the perfect villain, plausibly staying one step ahead of Holmes. Ritchie continues his Holmes signature of showing Holmes’s predictive analysis for combat in slow motion before actually engaging in combat in real time. The finale gives aficionados Holmes and Moriarty’s famous confrontation at the Reichbach Falls from the story “The Adventure of the Final Problem”.

This outing runs slightly more serious than the previous adventure, simply because the stakes are much higher than they were the first time around. Holmes and Watson still engage in their bromantellectual—yes, I just invented that word—bickering that made the first film so entertaining. Stephen Fry (“V for Vendetta”) comes on board as Sherlock’s brother Mycroft Holmes for the biggest bout of comic relief. The screenwriters and Ritchie structure the comic timing with the action very well.

“Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” won’t be changing the face of action movies to come nor win any artistic awards of merit, but it is a sly actioner that will satisfy the fans of the previous film and please those who may have missed that one. There have been some improvements to the plotting elements from the first film, and a few setbacks in other areas. The absence of a strong female lead leaves Holmes and Watson without a fulcrum to balance their bickering. Again, such details are hard to notice, however, in a film that hardly stops to take a breath during it’s over two hour running time.

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