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So let me be upfront with you right away: I’ve never watched the first Sherlock Holmes movie directed by Guy Ritchie. In fact, I hadn’t even seen a Guy Ritchie movie until I saw his Sherlock Holmes sequel, A Game of Shadows.
This could border on being a blasphemous confession to some of you. To others, perhaps those that don’t like Madonna these days, maybe not so much.
But I digress. Back to my point: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is my first true exposure to Ritchie’s Holmesian universe and his hyper-kinetic action style of filmmaking. I knew a little of what one could expect to see when one bore witness to a Guy Ritchie film, so it’s not like I went into the screening like Fay Wary being offered to King Kong.
The Robert Downey Jr./Jude Law Sherlock movies were developed to blow off the dust associated with Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective and turn the character into an action movie hero, albeit one armed with a dizzying intellect. In fact, the creative decision to make Sherlock’s mental prowess to think multiple steps ahead be depicted on-screen in rapid flashes of quick action give Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes something new. It’s cool, it’s fun to try and keep up as a watcher and it presents Sherlock’s cerebral gift in a particularly novel way.
Without having watched the first Sherlock Holmes, A Game of Shadows moves quickly into introducing returning characters and new ones. One of those returning to connect the first film to the second is Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler, a romantic interest and plot foil for Downey’s Holmes. She’s only in A Game of Shadows for a little while, enough to push the plot ahead to introduce the criminal counterpoint for Holmes, Professor James Moriarty (played by Mad Men’s Jared Harris.)
Moriarty is one of those villains from pop literature that needs to be presented just precisely so. Harris’ performance as the Khan to Holmes’ Kirk is well played, with chunks of icy menace floating beneath his public face. You don’t get the feeling that Downey’s Sherlock doesn’t have an equal to fight in the film and that Moriarty’s tentacles are quite capable of lashing out to harm Holmes and his small circle of friends.
It’s that circling between the hero and the villain that keeps A Game of Shadows centered while the action unfolds. Ritchie knows that it’s an action movie people are expecting to see and less of a PBS murder mystery so there’s a number of slo-mo, rapid staccato images to punctuate the scenes between Jude Law’s Dr. Watson berating Sherlock for getting him into yet another pickle of a situation. Seeing the exquisite camerawork done by Philippe Rousselot as a French forest gets torn asunder by mortar fire in slo-mo is a sight unto itself.
As usual, Hans Zimmer produces another movie soundtrack that becomes the beating heart thudding between frames.
For her inaugural debut in an American film, present day it girl Noomi Rapace (the original Lisbeth Salander from the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo movie) comes across rather bland. I wish that I could say more in her favor; perhaps her wattage isn’t as bright when sandwiched between Holmes and Watson.
But perhaps the biggest surprise about A Game of Shadows was the fact that I enjoyed it more than I thought. The moment where I realized this came near the end of the film, and at a dramatic moment that I had entirely not suspected would happen in a film of this kind, born and bred to produce sequels. Whether this comes from Kieran and Michele Mulroney’s screenplay or the instructions issued by Guy Ritchie, I can’t say, but the impact of being surprised raised my appreciation for the film even more so.
Like I said at the start of my review, I can’t judge Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows by the first film’s precedent. Judging the sequel by its own accomplishments and recommending it as a finely made Hollywood action movie, well, that’s something that I can do.
Review Score: 80 / 100
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