A Game of Shadows
- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Warner Bros.
Reviewed by David Medsker
uy Ritchie has tremendous visual style, but little to no discipline. In his previous films, this only occasionally proved to be a problem – likely due to budgetary limitations – but then he netted half a billion dollars worldwide with 2009’s “Sherlock Holmes,” and clearly negotiated for additional artistic license when signing on to direct the sequel, “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.” The end result is a mostly entertaining game of cat and mouse that is far too frequently interrupted by Ritchie’s “vision.” Imagine what he could have accomplished if he weren’t constantly cockblocking the actors.
It is 1899, and the brilliant but unorthodox English inspector Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) is doggedly trying to find evidence linking criminal mastermind and arch nemesis Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris) to series of high-profile murders all over the globe involving men of industry. Holmes’ associate, Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) is getting married to his girlfriend Mary (Kelly Reilly) and wants no part of it, but Moriarty refuses to allow Watson to go quietly. Holmes intercepts a letter meant for gypsy fortune teller Madam Sizma Heron (Noomi Rapace, the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), which sends Holmes and Watson scouring the anarchist underworld for Sizma’s missing brother, only to discover Moriarty’s fingerprints wherever they go, and that his endgame is far grander than they imagined.
It would be interesting to see what the bare bones of the story look like once the visual pyrotechnics – the overused ‘anticipate the next 12 moves’ gimmick, Holmes’ “Beautiful Mind”-like analysis of each room for clues, the ridiculous chase through the forest – are removed. Would there be enough to sustain a movie, or are the visual set pieces included to distract as much as they’re designed to dazzle? Just once it would have been nice to see Holmes take a page from Indiana Jones’ handbook, and dispatch a guy in one move (a la Indy shooting the sword-swinging goon). Instead, we see each fight, blow for blow, twice. It grows tiresome, and by the time the movie’s anticlimactic third act comes around, both Holmes and the movie are pushing their luck.
Downey seems to be having a good time though, spending a good chunk of the movie in disguise (including one in drag) and testing his ‘urban camouflage.’ Law suffers Holmes and the story with the patience of a saint, and is rewarded with a few key acts of heroism. Harris is effective if nondescript as Moriarty; he gets the tone right, mixing a hint of menace into his English upper class decorum, but he’s not terribly interesting. Reilly and Rapace are supporting actors in the most literal sense, only useful when it’s convenient to Holmes. Rachel McAdams, meanwhile, appears in a glorified cameo, and an unnecessary one at that. Stephen Fry is good for a laugh as Holmes’ brother Mycroft, though.
There’s a saying in baseball that you can’t win the World Series in April, but you can definitely lose it in April. The same rules apply to directing movies. You can assemble the most visually stunning sequence ever created, but if it doesn’t work in context with the rest of the film, it’s worthless. With “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,” Ritchie put himself ahead of the film, and the film suffers greatly because of it.