16 February 2012

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

I think I can safely say that not a lot of us were expecting to enjoy the original Sherlock Holmes as much as we did. Whilst the entire prospect may have been somewhat appealing - Sherlock, is of course, a classic character - but the constituent elements may have caused the more sniffy amongst us to question its value. 'Hot as shit right now' American actor Robert Downey Jr. in the title role? An out-of-form Jude Law in support? A recently lambasted Guy Ritchie in the directors chair? This, coupled with the debut of the excellent modern update from the BBC meant that the cynical amongst us - and yes, that included me - might've thought this would amount to a rather disastrous cocktail. But come together it did, and majestically so, with its family-friendly, mischevious sense of humour blending perfectly with an intriguing, gothic-inspired story to create a surprise Christmas treat.

The box office takings were hardly insignificant either, and thus along rolls the rather inevitable sequel. But - in the spirit of the Empire striking back - we must ask: is it better than the first one?

Unfortunately, the rather inevitable answer is no. But it does come with some rather large caveats - namely the fact that it's more or less exactly as good.

There are some losses as it transitions into franchisedom - gone is the mystically gothic vibe of the first, Rachel MacAdams and the slightly looser structuring in favour of a tightly-paced, action-oriented flick with a villain whose primary weapon is economics. That and...y'know...predictive kung-fu. The mystery here seems all the less mysterious, and it's open to debate whether the film is better for it.

If you like your action at least considered, then you'll find a lot to like here. The idea of Holmes running a fight through his analytical mind is beautifully toyed with in this one, as he's not coming up against run-of-the-mill fighters now. There does come a moment where the switching between slow-motion and normal speed starts to feel a little gimmicky, but it never really comes to a head, and the fact of the matter is that it looks fantastic - if nothing else, Guy Ritchie has a fantastic eye for tensely directed action. Set pieces abound, and they're all immensely entertaining, from Watson attempting to conduct a rescue of Holmes under sniper-fire, and subsequently coming up with a rather...destructive solution to it, to a cross-dressing, train-based caper that brings about belly-laughs as well as getting the adrenaline flowing.

The story - whilst disappointingly dropping the mystical angle - is still tight and well conceived, and not a plot-hole in sight. It does occasionally feel a little contrived in its attempts to make the adventure a globe-trotting one when it could've easily been contained once again within London, with a brief foray to Reichenbach to cap it off. But this is easy to overlook, as in exchange we get a far grander plot that never drags and keeps the scenery interesting.

The chemistry between Downey Jr. and Law is still one of the main selling points, though, and they evolve the relationship beautifully. Holmes starts off, once again, having introverted himself due to a lack of an interesting case, and it's up to Watson to balance his affection for Holmes and that for his soon-to-be wife. The dialogue is as joyously tongue-in-cheek as it was in the first one, and Downey Jr's particular brand of 'insane genius' is, I must say, most appealing and engaging, and there's a certain joy to be had from the interplay between this and the more grounded intelligence of Watson that the screenwriters have done a fantastic job of capitalising on.

Elsewhere, Noomi Rappace, whilst good, feels almost entirely peripheral as Gypsy queen Simza, there almost as a MacGuffin that appears to have been accidentally made into an important player only right at the very end of the movie. Stephen Fry is great as Mycroft - or Mikey, as he's known in this interpretation. Whilst there's little familial resemblance, Fry plays off Downey Jr. rather wonderfully - QI's good and all, but he slips into Mycroft's shoes rather comfortably, and I distinctly remember wishing that he was in it more. It's a little let down by a relatively forgettable turn by Jared Harris in the nemesis role, though this could actually be interpreted as intentional - ultimately, the entire point of Moriarty's plan is that he's never implicit or even remembered in the war that his schemings creates. It's just that he's perhaps a little too successful, and this is actually, and oddly, to the film's credit.

All in all, this is a fantastic continuation of the now set-in-stone franchise. Richie does seem to have found another niche that he can operate rather well within, and the characterisations are utterly enthralling. Throw in some great performances, a wonderfully clever script and a neat twist on 'The Final Problem', and this is a sequel that for once doesn't disappoint.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great review! Unsure whether Mr Fry fits the name Mikey but worth a shot just to see mad Bobby Downey