Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011) – Well let me cut to the chase (before I pad this out): how you feel about Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows really depends on how you felt about Guy Ritchie’s 2009 Sherlock Holmes because in a lot of ways it’s just more of the same. I, for one, like the 2009 one so since this sequel just takes ramps up the elements that made that one fun, it also ends up being a lot of fun. A Game of Shadows has two things its predecessor did not. The first and most important is a compelling villain. I’m sure there was studio pressure to cast a big movie star as Moriarty but Guy Ritchie made the right call with Mad Men’s Jared Harris. Harris exudes menace, even while keeping the literal content of his initial interactions with Holmes perfectly innocuous. The second great cast addition is Stephen Fry as Sherlock’s brother Mycroft Holmes. Mycroft is even smarter than Sherlock and shares many of his quirks but none of his ambition. He has an indispensable job in civil service and is content with that, rather than constantly challenging himself as his brother does.

Less ideal in a new role is Noomie Rapace (from the Swedish The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels). Rapace is a fine actress stuck in a nothing role. Hopefully she’ll get a chance to demonstrate her talent in Prometheus later this year but in the meantime her English-language career remains unimpressive. Rachel McAdams, possibly the weakest link of the first film, briefly reprises her role. She still isn’t bringing much to the table but she serves an important plot function and is in one scene that demonstrates what a great villain Moriarty is. Kelly Reilly expands on her role from the first as Watson fiancée/wife for a nice comic supporting role (Holmes’s demands on Watson take their toll on his relationship). Of course, the two actors who matter most are Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law reprising their roles as Holmes and Watson. Their chemistry carries the movie once again.

The story has twists and turns, many of which you can see coming. A couple you don’t, but nothing earth-shattering. There is terrorism and plot and the ever-looming threat of war in Europe. Guy Ritchie has translated the gritty urban atmospheres of his earlier films into a Victorian setting remarkably well. I hope he takes the boatloads of money he must surely get from these flicks and uses it to fund the sequel promised in the end credits of Rocknrolla (a movie I enjoyed the hell out of). The approach of these films is take the basic elements of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories and bring sort of a modern edge to them. That sounds asinine, yet it works remarkably well. Those familiar with Holmes and Moriarty and their confrontation at Reichenbach Falls know where the climax of the film is headed. Those who know how Doyle followed The Final Problem (turns out it wasn’t so final) know that more Holmes movies will likely follow. I’m definitely cool with that.

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