'Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows' (dir: Guy Richie, 2011) Cert: 12A
2009's 'Sherlock Holmes' was a box-office sensation, a critical success and the film that made many sit up and take notice of Guy Richie - a filmmaker previously snubbed for only making Cockney Gangster movies. Being amongst those who loved Richie's last adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's classic character, one had high hopes for the rather inevitable sequel but has he managed to capture lightening in a bottle twice or has his franchise run out of steam?
Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and Dr. Watson (Jude Law) team up for a second adventure in which they must travel across Europe in order to stop and outwit Holmes' toughest and smartest adversary, Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris) who is playing a vicious game which could lead to the brink of war. The heroic pair find a companion and ally in Simza Heron (Noomi Rapace); a fortune-teller who could have links that help unravel the truth behind Moriarty's intentions.
To an extent, Richie's latest is an example of the term "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" in that it shares many similarities with it's predecessor but seeing that the 2009 film was brilliant, this is hardly a criticism and unlike recent sequels (that's you 'The Hangover Part II'), 'A Game of Shadows' does what a follow-up should do - expand.
Everything is larger here, psychically and theoretically. Warner Bros. nerves regarding Richie tackling the classic literary characters have diminished, thus a bigger budget, promotion and distribution have been provided. The world of the film has grown in scale, detail and authenticity; 1800s London looked great in the first feature, but it looks extraordinary here - dark, hollow buildings that stand stark along the over-populated and poverty-stricken streets, gloomy Noir style cobbled-alleyways that bump and crack as horses and vehicles occupy them and paper-boys voice the lanes for cash. This is historical London and it screams with realism in design and execution. The same location accuracies continue as the group embrace wider Europe but it's the UK capital footage which is the most striking.
As well as the filmic space, Richie's direction has elevated too - both in skill and scale. His camera captures intimacy with the dialogue, intrigue with the mystery and mania with the action, but in all three conditions, his awareness of area and indeed variety impacts greatly on the cinematic spectacle. There are a few moments in 'A Game of Shadows' that prove able hands to the audience, particularly a woodland chase scene which is some of the most gripping and technically assured filmmaking of 2011. Balanced by smart and effective slow-motion, we see bullets zip by and brush past the characters, others colliding with trees causing the bark to beautifully splinter and dirt dancing in the sky as an explosion occurs before tumbling back to real-time and filmic reality. This scene alone is worthy of the admission price, plus the picture features at least 3 equally jaw-dropping sequences.
|Still from 'Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows' (dir: Guy Richie, 2011)|
Much like in the first feature, a vast majority of the charm came from the relationship shared between Holmes and Watson, and thankfully this charm is still in tact. Admittedly the pair's banter has been turned up to 11 and at points they come across like a bickering married couple but this only adds dimension to the frequently silly comedy that surrounds the entire feature. But 'bromance' aside, it's clear Downey Jr. and Law enjoy each other's company and indeed their characters and this reflects onto the spectator when viewing. As well as the pair's wonderful deliveries, it's the scripting that provides the humour and the suspense for the tale and Michael and Kieran Mulroney offer a classy and witty screenplay.
There are a couple of little problems with Richie's latest however, firstly Noomi Rapace, although good in her role, is given very little to do. Either is Kelly Reilly's Mary Watson. Perhaps this was a scripting decision so that no focus is taken away from Holmes and Watson but I for one would have liked more screen-time for these two supremely talent women. Also Eddie Marsan's Inspector Lestrade pops up for the sum total of 74 seconds which seemed a bit of a cop-out; as if at the last minute, Richie and co remembered his character and quickly shoved him in. However, for the most part, one enjoyed 'A Game of Shadows' massively and found much more to praise than to moan about.
The performances are top-class; Downey Jr. is magnetic and frantic as Holmes - he is impossible to take your eyes off, bursting with all the energy and genius we know the character has. Funnier, fuller and stronger than in the 2009 feature, Downey Jr. thrives in the action, charms in the comedy and surprises continuously. One recalls the doubt the world had when the American was cast as the all-famous Englishman but now it seems as though the role was made for him and his wacky behaviour.
Law is equally good and has too built on his earlier performance - Watson, used being the one cleaning up after Holmes' messes has his fair share of bite and grit here; wielding automatic weapons, dodging snipers and fighting with the detective in drag. Law is giddy yet composed in his role and it suits his performing style wonderfully. As mentioned, Repace is good but has a fairly static role as Simza. Stephan Fry is hilarious as Mycroft Holmes and he is unbelievable comfortable in a role that requires him to walk around naked for a prolonged amount of time. Mycroft provides a large amount of comedy in the film and Fry's intellectual charm only boosts his role, but the film's star is Harris.
Finding somebody to play Moriarty so beautifully must have been a great challenge but Harris slots into the big shoes with ease. So calculated, so brilliant and so smart is Moriarty, making him the perfect match for our hero and Harris delivers with skill and ease. The best scenes with him are simply the dialogue battles with Holmes - constantly trying to '1-Up' each other without losing their cool is a gripping thing to watch. One doubted Harris in this role but those feelings have simply vanished - he is fantastic.
'A Game of Shadows' proves that Richie is a competent director when handed the right work and shows audiences that he is clearly not a 'one-trick pony'. Frequently funny, action-packed and filled with great performances, this is the perfect film for a Sherlock Holmes fan or anyone who enjoys a rollicking roller-coaster movie.
Fast-paced, fun-filled and visually explosive - this sequel builds and improves on it's already strong original.
By Chris Haydon