Oh, the action film equal. So many traps to fall into. In many respects Guy Richie’s 2009 big budget and frenetic version of Conan Doyle’s classic detective breathed new life into the characters. It was gritty, explosive, and both Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law breathed new life into Holmes and Watson. But what do do with a sequel. Certainly there were several hints as to what it would be. The question is, does Game of Shadows avoid the cliched pitfalls that often affect the second film in a series, or does it rise above them. Well…
The answer is mostly: no it most certainly does not.
Now, lets talk about the good things first. Downey and Law again shine as partners and as actors. Sure, much has been made about the whole ‘Gay’ thing. But really, this isn’t anything new or revelatory, even as presented in this film. Hell, Christopher Plummer and James Mason pretty much played things the same way back in 1979′s Murder by Decree (mind you, they were offered an altogether better script than this.) Late Victorian era London and Europe have never looked more visceral. Jared Harris is excellent as Moriarty and his scenes are brilliantly realized. And Richie’s take on Holmes motivations are reasonably acceptable. Sure his motivations do become rather sentimental in the end, but I’m not going to complain about that. I will complain about Holmes being stamped into a manic James Bond type character who does little detecting and a whole lot of spy-thriller typeaction-adventuring.
But, in all fairness, this shouldn’t have been the second film in the series. It should have really been the third. Why? There is so much excellent material that could have been played with prior to the whole Moriarty end game. There could have been a decent build up to this films crescendo. The whole effort feels rushed from a dramatic point of view. And it needn’t have been.
And yes, film does utterly fall into the trap that befalls many action movie sequels, the idea that everything needs to be replayed, only more so. So we get Holmes predictive fighting techiniques repeatedly played to excess, the whole gayness played up (oh my, Holmes in a dress – later dancing with Watson.), bigger and louder explosions and nastier torture. And then there is the plot. Yes, genre friends, Guy Richie decided to essentially steal the plot from the much derided 2003′s League of Extrodinary Gentlemen. Which, coincidentally has Moriarty trying to precipitate the First World War. Now, that film was rather a kind of superhero story, so in some small manner A Game of Shadows doesn’t quite manage to match it’s excess, but still, we were granted some originality in the first film. Was that too much to ask from the second?
Then, lastly, there is the early and quick removal of Irene Adler. As with his fellow revisioner Stephen Moffat (who helms the critically praised Sherlock series for the BBC) Conan Doyle’s most striking female character and the one who was at the very least a match for the great detective, is again reduced to a pawn in the Holmes vs. Moriarty cock duel and summarily dispatched over her romantic attachment to our hero. It is embarrassing to watch this and wonder why Ritchie (as well as Moffat)feel the need to crap on such an iconic figure. Is is simple misogyny? Who knows. Yeah, there are other women in the movie. But they of course, while occasionally sparring with Holmes, pretty much do what they are told. It’s sad really.
Much of the rest of the cast is more ore less just there as wallpaper, whether it would be the sillified Mycroft (Stephen Fry), the understated Colonel Moran (Paul Anderson). Sure Noomi Rapace (the new European It Girl – With the Dragon Tattoo and all – as an anarchist gypsy) and Kelly Reilly (as Mary Watson) gamely play their background roles, but they don’t contribute much to the proceedings. It’s all over the top in the same sort of way that, say Rambo II was in comparison to First Blood. As such, I am not particularly looking forwards to the next Richiean Holmes effort.
Maybe I’ll just go watch Murder by Decree again (or perhaps it’s surprisingly effective kind-of remake, 2001′s From Hell.)
Rating: 3 out of 5