Back in 2009 a new, revamped version of Sir Arthur Conon Doyle’s classic literary characters hit theaters in Sherlock Holmes. It was an updated take on the classic detective; humorous characterization, lots of action and explosions, and some state of the art visual effects, while not straying too far from its source material. I really liked it a lot, and was looking forward to the sequel. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011) was what I expected in a sequel; more of what made the first movie so fun.
Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) has always been the smartest man in the room, until now. There is a new criminal mastermind at large, Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris), and not only is he Holmes’ intellectual equal, but his capacity for evil coupled with a complete lack of conscience may actually give him an advantage over the renowned detective. Holmes needs to gather all the assistance he can, which includes his longtime trusted associate Doctor John Watson (Jude Law), a gypsy woman named Simza (Noomi Rapace), and Holmes’ brother Mycroft (Stephen Fry). Together they try to outwit Moriarty, who is always a few steps ahead of Holmes. If he is not stopped, Moriarty will bring about an international war that could destroy Europe.
Moriarty wasn’t a completely unexpected antagonist. In the first movie we see this shadowy figure that seemed to be orchestrating events deep behind the scenes. Once his name is mentioned, Holmes begins looking forward to a new adventure and a new adversary. Since that movie, Holmes has been tracking the activities of Professor Moriarty in seemingly unrelated and trivial events. I appreciate how this movie feeds off of all the loose ends of the previous movie; this one seems like a natural progression of a bigger story arch. A Game of Shadows starts with Holmes devising an insanely complicated tracking system illustrating how various innocuous and unrelated events tie back to Moriarty in some way. This sets the stage for the conflict to come. Moriarty is remarkably intelligent and gives Holmes a genuine challenge leaving scarcely a scrap of evidence or the slightest clue.
As mentioned, this is an updated take on the classic detective. Its set in 1895, Victorian London, but Holmes and Watson are more like action heroes than sleuths. They both seem proficient in martial arts rather than the common “fisticuffs” of the day. It’s not so much the genteel atmosphere of Conan Doyle’s stories. Furthermore, trying to prevent an international war seems like a job more suited for James Bond than the residents of 221B Baker Street. Yet they still remain close enough to the original Holmes and Watson characters that I imagine fans of the classic literature would enjoy it along with young audiences that demand explosions, gunfire, and special effects.
Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law possibly make the best renditions of Holmes and Watson I have seen in ages. The actors do a superb job and bounce off one another in a highly pleasing way. They are funny, witty, and their delivery is nothing shy of amazing. The Guinness World Records has consistently listed Sherlock Holmes as the "most portrayed movie character" with 75 actors playing the part in over 211 films. Downey Jr. makes a fantastic Holmes and is easily one of my favorite renditions of the character.
My only complaint about the first movie was there were not enough visual cues or plot development for the audience to solve the mystery along with the characters. When we get to the end, Holmes was pulling details out of nowhere to reveal how the villain did it. While the mystery (as opposed to the plot) in A Game of Shadows is still tricky to follow, we are able to keep up with Holmes’ thinking and understand how he comes to his conclusions. This returns these movies to the Conan Doyle tradition of showing Holmes doing his best work in his mind.
The dialogue in A Game of Shadows was really interesting; witty, clever, amusing, and engaging. It felt very natural, quirky as the characters are, and really helped develop the characters and move the story forward. I would have liked to see more “verbal fencing” between Holmes and Moriarty. Seeing them try to outwit each other during conversation was highly amusing to watch.
With updated classic literary characters for a new audience and being portrayed by some stellar acting, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is a genuinely fun movie to watch. It pushes credibility a bit further than I thought was necessary, but not so much that it annoys. The visual effects, acting, and dialogue will likely have you begging for more. In fact, Warner Bros. has announced that a Sherlock Holmes 3 is in the works and is scheduled for release in 2014, so stay tuned. I didn’t love A Game of Shadows as much as the first, but I’d still buy it (and Sherlock Holmes) on Blu-Ray.
What is your favorite Sherlock Holmes? There’s plenty to pick from. Comment below and tell me why you like that particular Sherlock so much!