Friday, December 16, 2011

Sherlock Holmes: A Game
of Shadows

Robert Downey Jr. reprises his role as the world's most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes, and Jude Law returns as his friend and colleague, Dr. John Watson, in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. 

Around the globe, headlines break the news: a scandal takes down an Indian cotton tycoon; a Chinese opium trader dies of an apparent overdose; bombings in Strasbourg and Vienna; the death of an American steel magnate ... no one sees the connective thread between these seemingly random events -- no one, that is, except the great Sherlock Holmes, who has discerned a deliberate web of death and destruction. At its center sits a singularly sinister spider: Moriarty.

Holmes' investigation into Moriarty's plot becomes more dangerous as it leads him and Watson out of London to France, Germany and finally Switzerland. But the cunning Moriarty is always one step ahead, and moving perilously close to completing his ominous plan. If he succeeds, it will not only bring him immense wealth and power but alter the course of history.

I'm not a Sherlock Homes devotee, I've only read a couple of the original stories, but I absolutely loved the first Sherlock Holmes movie. It was smart, funny, action-packed and visually stunning. Plus it made you think and follow the plot. I can say pretty much all the same for the new movie as well. This one, however, really requires you to pay attention to small details throughout the film's rather complex plot -- and half the time I really had no idea what Moriarty's plan actually was -- because, as with any good whodunit, those little  details just may come into play during the story's climactic moment. And if you're in the least bit familiar with the Holmes legacy, you'll also be very familiar with the climactic location, Reichenbach Falls, where Holmes and Moriarty finally met their end in the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories. But it's only the second movie, so they can't kill off the world's greatest detective and his greatest adversary just yet, can they?

You never know, because the film kicks off with a rather surprising fatality. After that, you aren't sure who will survive … except for Watson, of course, because as in the original books, the Holmes adventures are told by him. The film opens with Watson typing up his latest (and last?) story about Holmes' encounter with Professor Moriarty, who seems to be linked to a series of mysterious deaths (although no one but Holmes see the connection). As Holmes puts all the pieces together, he discovers that Moriarty is always one step ahead of him, and we see Holmes shaken to his core when he realizes he's been outsmarted. But with the help help of Watson and a gypsy woman (Noomi Rapace, the original The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), they gain the upper hand, but Moriarty is a crafty foe who can easily turn the tables. The cat and mouse game between Holmes and Moriarty is handled very well.

The original film got its share of criticism for straying too far from the original stories, as well as for all the things blowing up, and this film also has its share of explosions … but they're not just randomly in the plot -- various locations are being bombed by terrorists. Introducing Moriarty, Reichenbach Falls, and Mycroft Holmes also ties the movie more closely to the source material. Guy Ritchie has again delivered a beautiful looking film, even with all of it's dreary shades of grey, and his use of ultra slow motion during a chase and gun fight through a desolate forest is jaw-dropping. Some may say this is all style over substance, but I loved it. And there is more than enough plot to let Ritchie indulge his visual stylings.

Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law again prove that their casting was a stroke of genius as the two have the best buddy chemistry on screen since … Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte? John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd? It's hard to say, really, because they work together so well. Stephen Fry is also a welcome addition to the cast as Holmes' brother, Rapace makes a lovely new heroine for the boys to work with, and Jared Harris is appropriately smug and superior as Moriarty. Hans Zimmer's score also varies in range from gypsy music to Don Giovanni to pounding orchestral music. I absolutely enjoyed Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows as much as I did the first movie. It's one of those movies that you can't really do justice in a few words because it's so visual, so densely plotted, so well-acted … it really is a terrific piece of entertainment that strives to keep the audience on its collective toes and not just deliver a by-the-numbers mystery that can be figured out by the time you finish your popcorn. If you enjoyed the first movie, by all means put this on your "must see" list. If you're still on the fence, I highly recommend it. If you're a Holmes purist, it's sure to irritate you but this is Sherlock Holmes for a new generation … and maybe when it's all said and done, the movies will get that new generation interested in reading the original stories.

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