Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows was another one of my most anticipated films of the holiday season, which I'm sure is no surprise given my not so secret love of all things Holmes-related. :) The only mystery (which I still haven't figured out) is how this film was in theaters for almost a month before I finally got around to seeing it. My apologies to Sherlock and Watson.
Like its predecessor, this film franchise isn't for the Sherlock purist. That said, I thoroughly enjoy director Guy Ritchie's darkly compelling, gorgeous realization of Victorian England (and in this case, a great part of Europe), and the positively irresistible chemistry between Robert Downey Jr. as the world's foremost consulting detective and the delicious and adorable Jude Law as his long-suffering BFF Dr. Watson.
As promised at the end of the 2009 film, A Game of Shadows sees Holmes obsessed with tracking the movements of Professor James Moriarty, a shadowy puppetmaster intent on plunging all of Europe into a cataclysmic war. Moriarty is brought to life by Jared Harris. I have only a passing familiarity with Harris's filmography, but oh my word he was pitch-perfect as Sherlock's arch-enemy. His Moriarty is cold, calculating, and chilling, a soulless force of evil that counterbalances some of the ridiculousness that comes with this realization of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories -- the explosions, slow-motion fights, etc. Harris's Moriarity is a villain worthy of the name, and perhaps best of all he, by contrast, has the ability to make Downey's rather unorthodox Sherlock feel and be a hero.
My favorite aspect of this incarnation of Holmes is the relationship between Holmes and Watson. Downey and Law have this amazing on-screen chemistry. Whether or not you like the term bromance (if you have a better one, let me know!), Downey and Watson help define it and never better than the work they deliver in A Game of Shadows. The banter, the fights, the exasperation and most of all the never-changing, unshakeable affection between the two of them -- GAH!! I absolutely love it. This film begins with Watson on the eve of his wedding to Mary (Kelly Reilly). Of course Sherlock buggers up his best man duties and forgets to invite anyone to the bachelor party, instead investigating a Moriarty-related lead (Watson remains happily - and drunkenly - oblivious). But despite his veneer of selfishness and denial, Sherlock still manages to get Watson to the church on time, and Downey still manages to break my heart by looking on his friend's happiness with such a forlorn look that it just killed me.
And this is where things get really interesting if you're a fan of this Holmes/Watson dynamic asI am -- so much of the subsequent action results partly from Sherlock's desire to keep his best friend close, but more than that, to keep him safe. Sherlock may trash-talk marriage, may make a great show of trying to get Watson to rethink his future, but when Moriarty threatens Watson and Mary, Holmes will do anything to keep them safe (including throwing Mary from a moving train). Speaking of Mary, Kelly Reilly is absolutely superb in the role. Though her screentime is limited, she and Law make a lovely couple, and for all that Sherlock must try her patience, Reilly tempers what would be understandable frustration with a warmth that acknowledges just what Sherlock means to Watson. It's rather like when Mary is in the picture, Sherlock is the Watsons' wayward child, or that relative that you love but wears you out to no end with their shenanigans. *wink*
Given how fantastic it was to see Mary decipher Moriarty's stolen accounts book (and does she every relish the work -- the girl has moxie!), one wonders Ritchie and company don't make greater use of Reilly's talent. Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) makes a brief appearance, only to be dispatched within the first fifteen minutes (one assumes she's in a sanatorium since Moriarty infected her with tuberculosis, if not dead altogether). Reception for McAdams's Adler was mixed as I recall when the first film released -- the scripting for her character did her no favors, though I do like the spark that enters Downey's eye when dealing with "the Woman," and placing her squarely on the wrong side of the law as a sort of "spy for hire" is a premise with possibility. If nothing else her questionable fate gives Downey an excuse to up the angst factor, and we all know how much I love that. :)
This script introduces gypsy fortune-teller Simza Heron, played by Noomi Rapace in her English-language film debut. I didn't think Simza was a very well-realized character, which in hindsight should be no surprise. However, I LOVED the atmosphere and culture that introducing gypsies to the storyline gave the film, in particular how it gave Hans Zimmer an excuse to incorporate gypsy-like rhythms into his fantastic score for the film.
I am so glad I somehow managed to stay away from an reviews of this film that mentioned Reichenbach, as revelation that the scene of Holmes and Moriarty's ultimate confrontation figures significantly in the movie's climax. The film is bookended with scenes of Watson typing up this film's nod to the canonical "The Final Problem", giving me great hope that a third Sherlock film is in the offing that will build on the strengths of this second installment. A Game of Shadows is at its best when showcasing the Holmes/Watson friendship first and foremost, and secondarily for its colorful evocation of late 19th century Europe, a powder keg ready to explode with the slightest provocation (Moriarty's goal) -- and we can see Ritchie hint at the pieces of the puzzle that would become a perfect storm twenty three years after this film is set, and engulf Europe in World War I.
From the construction-strewn streets of London, seen awash with a wonderful sepia tone that adds a richness to each frame of film, to the glitter of a Paris opera house, to a gloriously-rendered castle on a Swiss mountainside, A Game of Shadows is a feast for the eyes. The film is packed with wonderful period detail, from the clothing to the sets, and that coupled with an energetic pacing and a more focused storyline makes this sequel an improvement on a predecessor that despite its oft-irreverant treatment of its source material I found surprisingly enjoyable. There's enough surprises planted throughout these films, little nods to Doyle's stories that make the Sherlock aficionada in me quite happy (such as Moriarty's lieutenant being Colonel Sebastian Moran of "The Adventure of the Empty House," played by Paul Anderson). I have to acknowledge Stephen Fry as Mycroft Holmes -- he really is ideally suited as a foil to Downey's Sherlock. And I was so happy to see Eddie Marsan make a brief appearance at the end of the movie as Inspector Lestrade.
After Watson's utterly bereft, horrified look at Holmes falling to his death (seriously, Law has gorgeous eyes), I'm really looking forward to the third installment in this franchise -- it has to be made. The promise of Sherlock's return and Watson's indignation (at being so monstrously used)/joy is to tempting to pass up. :)