Thursday, December 29, 2011

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Sherlock Holmes is possibly my favorite literary character. I've read all of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Holmes stories. I'm sure a lot of the most devoted Holmes fans probably hate Guy Ritchie's hip, revisionist take on the classic characters and stories, but I think the characters are quite elastic and open for reinterpretation many times over. I also think these movies are quite fun, though both of them slouch for a good stretch in the middle.

Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law return as Holmes and Watson, this time on the trail of Prof. James Moriarty, the Napoleon of Crime. Joining them this time around are Noomi Rapace as a gypsy fortune teller, and Stephen Fry as Holmes' equally brilliant older brother, Mycroft.

Unlike many other Holmes films, Guy Ritchie presents them as action adventure mysteries, utilizing his hyperactive, slick visual sense to its best advantage. I like this angle, because the original stories were very much the forerunner to pulp adventure books. Holmes was an expert pugilist and swordsman, and Watson was a former military man, who did much of Holmes' legwork for him. I get so sick of Watson being portrayed as a fat sidekick who is just there to go, "Amazing! However did you figure it out?"

Downey's Sherlock is an interpretation only he could bring to the table. He's eccentric and foppish and weird, and from what I can tell, he's obsessive-compulsive, and possibly bipolar. Without a case to occupy him, he gets depressed and turns to drugs, but when he's in a manic state, he becomes obsessed with certain ideas. In addition to his infatuation with Moriarty, this time around, Holmes is hung up on disguises.

Mad Men's Jared Harris is pretty much the perfect James Moriarty. I mean, seriously, you can't get any better than him for this role. He's manipulating events on a grand scale, diabolically twisting the fates of entire nations to his will. Sherlock Holmes is truly the underdog in the face of this Moriarty.

Like the first Sherlock Holmes movie, this one isn't perfect. The two leads are great together. The Victorian England it is set in is vivid and fully realized. But man, that second act starts to drag. There's a point where they're being chased through the woods and being shot at and it changes to super slow motion as trees explode around them as they run. It looks really neat, but it grinds the movie to a halt. My mind started to wander for a few minutes there.

The droopy middle is made up for in A Game of Shadows by a wonderful showdown at the end, where Holmes and Moriarty have a chess match, both figurative and literal, deciding the fate of the world.

Like the first one, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is worth a watch, though not as good as it could be. I'm glad that Guy Ritchie has found a Hollywood-type movie that is a good fit for his style. I like his first couple movies a great deal, but he floundered for quite a while after those. For those clamoring for a more faithful yet still refreshing take on the character, might I suggest the currently airing BBC show, Sherlock? If you haven't seen it yet, you're missing out on the definitive Holmes of our generation.

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