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Films: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Rachel Winterbottom is not particularly stimulated by the detective sequel

Written by . Published on December 23rd 2011.

Films: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

THE year is 1891 and a recent bombing in Europe has caused rising tensions between several countries. There is only one person able to deduce that there is more to the explosion that meets the eye: renowned detective and expert in urban camouflage, Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.).  

The sleuth, whose inimitable powers of deduction come in handy in a brawl, is more eccentric in this latest outing than in director Guy Richie’s first film. Surviving on a diet of caffeine and formaldehyde, Holmes is wallowing in self pity over his partner Dr. Watson’s (Jude Law) upcoming marriage when the story begins.

Richie’s sequel follows in the same vein as its predecessor, delivering consistently impressive action set pieces which contrast beautifully with sumptuous period details.

His spirits rise after obtaining a clue from the duplicitous Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), and the detective connects the explosions to his arch-enemy, Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris). Despite being appalled at Watson’s decision to settle down and marry, Holmes requests that his friend joins him on this one last case.

Holmes organises a slapdash stag do for Watson, replacing his actual friends with his own brother, Mycroft (a delightful Stephen Fry), so that the siblings can spend the evening out-deducing each other. The occasion just happens to be held at a venue where Holmes can save the life of gypsy fortune teller, Sim (Noomi Rapace) which in turn leads him to realise that Watson’s life is in danger at the hands of Moriarty.

Determined to protect the newlyweds, Holmes follows the Watsons as they board a train to Brighton for their honeymoon. After foiling Moriarty’s assassination attempts, Holmes diverts their journey to Paris to seek out Sim and unravel the motives behind the bombings. Bickering as only they know how, the duo race against time to prevent the dastardly professor from causing an international crisis.

At the risk of reducing an entire film to a single word, A Game of Shadows is at its best an enjoyable ‘bromance’.

Based loosely on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel of the same name, A Game of Shadows kicks off shortly after the events of the first film. Richie’s sequel follows in the same vein as its predecessor, delivering consistently impressive action set pieces which contrast beautifully with sumptuous period details. New writers have created a sharper, wittier script, although this isn’t without flaws as the film begins to lose its momentum in its final third.

The majority of its viewing time grabs the attention as Holmes and Watson fight their way from one action scene to the next. However, the first film maintained more of an even-handed approach to Holmes’s powers of deductions, as here they are mainly employed in combat. Still, the slow motion insights into Holmes’ thought processes are beautifully executed, despite being used repeatedly.  

The high-octane adventure is made all the more entertaining by the endearing relationship between Holmes and Watson. Law and Downey Jr. have flawless chemistry, and it is impossible to doubt Watson’s love and loyalty for the socially dispassionate Holmes. At the risk of reducing an entire film to a single word, A Game of Shadows is at its best an enjoyable ‘bromance’. This isn’t a criticism.

Noomi Rapace is back in beautiful mode after her phenomenal stint as the troubled lead in the Millennium trilogy. Holmes’ universe doesn’t lack for strong women and although no replacement for McAdams’ fiery Adler, Rapace’s Sim is a lady who can hold her own in a fight. However, rather than being a new romantic interest for Holmes her character frequently functions as no more than a device for Holmes and Watson to explain their convoluted deductions to the audience.

Harris’ Moriarty should be the perfect foil for Holmes, who admires and fears him in equal measure. Unfortunately his schemes are uninventive and he was far more intimidating when operating from the background in the first film. When Holmes and the nondescript Moriarty finally go mind-to-mind at the film's climax, the results are disappointingly banal.

Overall, A Game of Shadows is more entertaining than intelligent. The conclusion is lacklustre and the villain lacks depth. The film, however, still excels as light entertainment and is well worth a watch.

Rating: 7/10


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