Were Sir Arthur Conan Doyle alive today, I’m sure he would hate the film adaptations of his mystery classics. Unlike Doyle’s subdued and contemplative Holmes, this Holmes, while equally brilliant, is brash, violent and more action star than investigator. Fans of the novels will find this film frustrating, a caricaturization of a beloved hero, streamlined and beefed up for a modern generation. But for those who don’t care, or who can simply pretend it’s not really a Sherlock Holmes story, it’s a supremely fun and surprisingly deep film.
In A Game of Shadows, Sherlock Holmes investigates a random series of bombings around Europe. Anarchist groups are blamed, but Sherlock suspects a deeper conspiracy, revolving around Professor Moriarty. Holmes dons multiple disguises, interrupts Watson’s honeymoon, teams up with a gypsy woman and travels around the world to stop Moriarty. If Sherlock fails, Moriarty will unleash terror upon the entire world.
The filmmakers took some really good risks with the plot, killing off key characters early on. I was kept guessing the whole time, unsure how the mystery would play out. While more a globe-trotting adventure than a typical Sherlock mystery, there are still some signature elements that are reminiscent of its source material. As always, Sherlock’s wit is sharp and his powers of observation keen. Through the wonder of cinema and creative camera tactics, I was let in on Holmes’s deductive processes allowing me to share in his “AHA!” moments.
The plot is bolstered by great performances and witty dialogue. Robert Downey, Jr.’s Holmes and Jude Law’s Watson exude personality and their perfect on-screen synergy results in many hilarious exchanges. But the real show-stealers are the interactions between Holmes and Moriarty (excellently portrayed by Mad Men’s Jared Harris). The final showdown between the two is riveting, as much a battle of wits as a battle of strength, their minds so alike, yet one completely evil and one unabashedly good. The constant repartee between the characters elevates this movie above a typical action film.
But the action scenes are also very good. There are loads of chases, gunfights and explosions. Some of these scenes are a bit jumpy and hard to follow, but they are still exciting and fun to watch. Holmes demonstrates his prowess at hand-to-hand combat in an early scene, taking on four huge thugs. While typically this would seem absurdly unrealistic, Holmes’s narration demonstrates that with a little observation, dispatching these men is effortless.
The look and feel of the Holmes films is quite unique. The color palette is dark, hued in blues and greys. It’s a perfect fit for the European setting, giving everything a brooding, Gothic feel. Director Guy Ritchie did a fine job giving the film its own style, unlike any other action film I’ve seen.
Hans Zimmer’s Sherlock Holmes theme is perhaps his most bizarre and original composition. Game of Shadows adds in additional cues, mostly quick-paced gypsy numbers. It’s a fun and catchy soundtrack guaranteed to get stuck in your head.
There are a few cautions preventing a blanket recommendation. In an intensely awkward scene, a character walks around naked, his delicate areas only mostly covered by well-placed props. Apart from that, there is violence, a few mild profanities, some double entendres and cross-dressing (played for laughs).
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is an exceedingly entertaining film that surpasses the first. It’s the complete package of great plot, character, dialogue and action. It’s not your typical Sherlock Holmes story, but it works well. Should you see this one? The answer is...elementary.