Editor’s Note: Go,See,Talk presents this review of Sherlock Homes: A Game of Shadows as the debut entry from our guest contributing writer Bill Graham. He’s going to be making some more appearances on G-S-T in the next few weeks so have a look at what he had to say about the sequel to Guy Ritchie’s 2009 blockbuster and offer your thoughts below.
As a movie-goer, I value my time. So often the inflated budgets of the modern blockbuster results in an obese runtime that attempts to show off as much of that cost as it can. At times it feels like the length of the film is, for better or worse, directly related to the complexity of the plot, which is exactly the case with director Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. His latest installment in the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson manages to feel overlong despite a 128 minute runtime, interweaving a story filled with increasingly large and complex action set pieces that are more memorable than what happens between. The shame is that while Robert Downey, Jr. (Holmes) and Jude law (Watson) riff back and forth and bring a charm that is readily apparent, they have little ability to fix the woes of the script.
Set a year after the first film concludes, Holmes is on the case of the brilliant Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris). However, while Moriarty is becoming increasingly dangerous, Watson is off getting married and trying to move forward with his life. This just wouldn’t be a Sherlock Holmes adventure without Watson, so he is entangled once again in the mess of his partner. What Moriarty is up to isn’t quite clear until we are smacked in the face with his plan, but it’s definitely sinister in some way. Along the way to foiling his plans, Holmes and Watson meet the gypsy Simza (Noomi Rapace) who has an unknown tie to Moriarty’s machinations.
For those hoping that Rapace, fresh off her breakout role as Lisbeth Salander in the original Swedish Millennium trilogy, has something meaty to bite into, steel yourself. She doesn’t. Simza is a plot device and you can see how little they utilize her or even give her depth. She is hollow, slate-faced, and shows little humor or charm. She simply exists. Compare that disappointment with Stephen Fry’s role as Holmes brother, Mycroft. Every time he appears he manages to get a laugh or two, and even has a sustained gag. He charms and fits in well with Downey, Jr. and Law. Yet he is underused as well.
My other major quibble with the film is the way it treats the audience. Part of the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle character’s charm was that he was incredibly intelligent—almost obnoxiously so. In Ritchie’s original and this one, we are treated to that idea on overdrive. I felt like I was being beaten over the head with Holmes’ intelligence, never given a chance to figure things out until he comes to some mysterious conclusion about the reason for an odd choice or the origin of some poison we could have never guessed. Perhaps I simply watched too much Scooby-Doo as a child, but I like having a chance even if I am not one to try to think ahead of a film.
All of that doesn’t detract from the biggest ace A Game of Shadows plays over and over: the action. Holmes shows off his ability to read and react to a situation by playing out his moves—in slow motion with his commentary, no less—before he actually does them. This is a smart move for two reasons. The first is that it simply is fun to watch him plan his moves and then put them in action. The second is more subtle, but even more effective: it lets the audience see what will happen during the fight sequence, soak it in, and then play it back in real time. You won’t complain about being able to keep track of what is occurring during these sequences—something most modern blockbusters fail to correct for.
There is also a sequence where Holmes, Watson, Simza and their group retreat down a hill full of trees and proceed to dodge all manner of projectiles. The trees aren’t nearly as lucky as we slow down, zoom in, and pan around our protagonists as splinters fly. As a whole, the sequence is thrilling and a flourish well worth seeing again. Indeed, the film is a beautiful is lifeless spectacle. A firework that attracts your attention, but is hollow and vacant. After the explosion, there isn’t much else to feel or say. That’s certainly a shame considering the amount of time you will invest in front of the screen.
Whatever reasoning you may have for seeing A Game of Shadows, it will likely satisfy the itch it promises. Grand scale and huge set pieces? Oh yea. Some humor? Holmes and Watson’s odd relationship/friendship/partnership dynamic is played up and they bicker like a married couple to our benefit. If you are looking for a worthy followup to the original, Ritchie gives more of the same. In fact, there’s no denying that there is a level of craftsmanship here that shows off the considerable budget. But like so many other blockbusters, the story sags and weighs the whole film down.