Play The Ultimate Game

Guy Ritchie

Robert Downey Jnr.
Jude Law
Jared Harris
Noomi Rapace

Taking place a year after the first film, Watson [Law] is set to be married and to cope, Holmes [Downey Jnr] has busied himself with the pursuit of a master orchestrator of crime. On the day of Watson’s stag party, Holmes expounds on his theory that respected Professor and close friend of the Prime Minister, James Moriarty [Harris], is in fact the puppeteer behind a series of seemingly unconnected crimes. He continues to explain that a series of terrorist attacks across Europe have been designed and perpetrated by Moriarty to ensure some massive global conflict. Watson wants little more to do with Holmes, simply wishing to enjoy his stag-do before his wedding the next day, so naturally reacts with extreme frustration when he learns that his party is being held in an entertainment hall connected to Holmes’ case; furthermore, all of Watson’s war/rugby/club friends could regrettably not attend – the sole respondent being Holmes’ older brother, Mycroft [Stephen Fry]. Whilst Watson entertains himself, trying to make the best of a bad night, Holmes follows several clues that lead to another key target in Moriarty’s evil machinations: a Romani fortune-teller, Sim [Rapace]. From here, Watson begrudgingly joins Holmes for one last foray – largely due to Holmes sabotaging an attempt on the newly wed Dr. + Mrs. Watson, during their honeymoon – uncovering several clues and revelations that take them all over mainland Europe, before a fittingly climactic finale atop Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland.

Much like the first film, A Game Of Shadows is littered with several subtle references to Arthur Conan Doyle’s original works whilst retaining its own unique style and flow. Building on the original, many of the popular elements remain while the weaker points have been honed and tuned to produce a clever story wrapped in a comical barrage of quasi-hammy acting and absurd scenarios. By description alone, this film shouldn’t work, much like its predecessor this movie should be a floundering mess akin to Batman & Robin but Ritchie demonstrates such a keen understanding of humour, character development, contemporary action and steady pace, that one can’t help but be entertained by this elaborate, spiralling mystery. Once again, the production values are astonishing, bringing late nineteenth century Europe to life with a subtle hint of over-stylisation; from the costumes and set design, to the props and locations, everything looks and feels aesthetically pleasing. Equally, Hans Zimmer’s commendable score returns with the now-familiar harpsichord melodies and over-the-top percussion accompaniment – arguably, it does delve into The Dark Knight/Inception territory, favouring fast-paced strings and overwhelming brass tones but that’s just a signature at this point.

The real key to these films working so well is the central performances – Downey Jnr and Law genuinely feel like a completely convincing duo who have known each other for decades. The inclusion of Noomi Rapace as the gypsy, Sim, was interesting but more a supportive plot device than anything else, the really interesting casting choices were Stephen Fry and Jared Harris. First off, when I learned of Fry’s casting as Holmes’ brother, I assumed it would be in a minor capacity, bordering on a cameo role, instead we’re treated to a thoroughly amusing, wholly fitting role for Fry that is both hilarious and perfectly deployed. I will expand on Harris’ performance below but it was quite frankly astounding, proving that Harris is closely following in his father’s illustrious footsteps.

It could be argued that pacing the plot at the same rate as Holmes’ intellect is an unwise move, guaranteeing you will lose the audience before they’ve had a chance to process everything for themselves. Personally, I feel the combination of slow-motion (yep, I’m actually promoting the use of slo-mo as a story-telling device) and repetitive forethought allows the audience a moment to follow Holmes’ line of deduction without feeling openly insulting. Having said that, individuals still may not be able to follow it and will be happily whisked through the story before feeling stunned and confused by the finale.

At this point, I doubt there’s any hope in trying to convince detractors of the first film (as A Game Of Shadows simply takes the same formula and multiplies it), some people simply refuse to see Ritchie’s series as a genuine Sherlock Holmes interpretation, much as people have issue with House or Sherlock. In lesser hands, this latest adaptation of Holmes would be a hideous cheesy romp but as it stands, these films are thoroughly enjoyable and grossly spectacular whilst successfully teetering on the edge of camp cinematics.

Release Date:
16th December 2011

The Scene To Look Out For:
As a fan of Mozart’s opera, Don Giovanni (to the extents that I insisted it be incorporated into the close of episode 5 of popular webseries, Unlocked), it was a welcome treat to see Moriarty gleefully toying with Holmes during the climactic Commmendatore scene. The music works beautifully with the performances, frenetic pacing and keen deception of it all. Brilliant stuff.

Notable Characters:
The on-screen chemistry between Downey Jnr and Law remains tremendous but the introduction of Jared Harris as the notorious Moriarty is spectacularly handled. Having proved himself in several supporting roles, it’s nice to see Harris finally getting more of a spotlight and taking on such a prominent part, exhibiting a range of poise, malice and malevolent genius with ease.

Highlighted Quote:
“Come at once if convenient. If inconvenient, come all the same”

In A Few Words:
“Engrossing, charming, witty, sensational turn of the century sequel”

Total Score: