Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
1 1/2 out of 4 stars
Because there are so few that remember the first series of "Sherlock Holmes" movies from the 1940s and many others who would rather the 1980s TV series never existed, director Guy Ritchie had little to stop him from completely reinventing the once iconic character.
Like the Daniel Craig-era "James Bond" flicks, Ritchie's two "Holmes" outings bear next to no resemblance to the source material; in this case a series of novels and short stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the 1880s. Apart from keeping his Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) an English detective who smokes a pipe and appreciates the neurological effects delivered by coca leaves, nothing from Doyle's creation remains in Ritchie's movies.
What we're left with is a generic action crime fighter with a plethora of psychological ticks and an uncanny ability to escape even moderate injury despite engaging in life-threatening hand-to-hand combat almost constantly. Like another fictional detective from years gone by (Charlie Chan) Ritchie's Holmes loves to play dress-up but is never convincing with his slapped together disguises. The worst and most laughable example here is when Downey shows up in hideous drag.
Based the box office take of the first installment (more than $500 million worldwide) most moviegoers (almost exclusively 18- to 35-year-old, ADHD males) Ritchie astutely surmised they don't care a lick about Doyle or the stodgy renderings turned in by Basil Rathbone and delivered a colossally overdone, ear-splitting, pyrotechnic orgy. When something -- however awful it might be -- makes a half a billions dollars, you don't dare mess with the formula and with "A Game of Shadows" Ritchie has made the exact same movie.
More or less playing his "Iron Man" character with longer hair and facial stubble, Downey does everything Ritchie asks of him. His British accent is note perfect, he more than handles the physical demands of the role and can call on his own real-life past demons for inspiration. Downey pulls off the part with ease, yet there is also an overwhelming level of self-satisfaction and smarmy smugness that makes his character severely off-putting. We want him to come out on top in the end; we just wish he wasn't so full of himself while getting there.
Offering some much needed contrast to the boorish Holmes is Jude Law reprising his role of Dr. Watson. Gentlemanly, grounded and the closest thing to normal in the entire movie, Watson tries -- mostly unsuccessfully -- to keep Holmes in check and by the time it's over, we ask ourselves why he still bothers. Their relationship is totally one-sided.
Fans of Rachel McAdams will be disappointed to learn her returning character is seen for only about 10 minutes and stepping in for her is the original "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" lead Noomi Rapace as the gypsy soothsayer Sim. Stuck in a thankless role, the Plain Jane Rapace is called on to look helpless and play Holmes' non-romantic second sidekick.
The plot? Does it really matter if there even is a plot or that it makes any sense? No. Like every Bond movie ever made, there's some evil genius dude (Jared Harris as Professor Moriarty) who wants to rule the world and has the fire power and muscle to do so. He is given ample opportunity to whack Holmes at every turn but never can quite pull it off.
All of the once innovative camera work, film speed manipulation and heavily choreographed fight scenes that served Ritchie so well in his British mob flicks ("Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels," "Snatch," "RockNRolla") feel completely out of place in what are supposed to be late 19th century period pieces. Dressing his characters in Victorian-era garb and then having them perform like they were mixed martial arts combatants doesn't make any sense and looks stupid. It's becoming clearer with each subsequent effort that Ritchie is a stylistic one-trick pony.
The only portion of the movie remotely interesting occurs in the last 15 minutes where screenwriters Kieran Mulroney and his wife Michelle cleverly work in morsels from one of Doyle's novels and deliver an ending far superior than everything that has preceded it. Somewhere the ghost of Doyle is taking some slight satisfaction that his 15 minutes is 100 times better than Ritchie's combined five hours. (Warner Bros.)