Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)    3 Stars


Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)


Director: Guy Ritchie

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Jared Harris

Synopsis: Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick Dr. Watson join forces to outwit and bring down their fiercest adversary, Professor Moriarty.




Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic detective has provided a rich seam for filmmakers, having appeared in more than 300 movie and TV adaptations since 1900, a time when the author was still conjuring up fantastic new adventures for his creation. The challenge for director Guy Ritchie and his team in 2009 was to remain true to the spirit of the original Holmes while also making him someone who would appeal to a 21st Century audience, many of whom prefer their heroes to have superpowers. Hollywood’s traditional depiction of Watson and Holmes, of the blustering buffoon constantly playing catch-up with the patient genius, went the way of the deerstalker and famous catchphrase, replaced by a bloke-ish relationship of moderate mutual verbal abuse. It’s safe to say that Conan Doyle would never have imagined his Holmes being addressed as ‘Shirley No-Mates’ by his faithful sidekick Watson on the occasion of the good doctor’s stag night, nor that he would be fending off would-be assassins with moves out of a kung-fu movie. This kind of deference to the taste of multiplex audiences should be the kiss of death to characters like Holmes and Watson, but while the screenplay from husband-and-wife writing team Kieran and Michele Mulroney might not placate hardcore Holmes fans, it should find favour with those less concerned with rigid faithfulness to the original without turning off those who merely want to see fights and explosions.

Conan Doyle’s plots were designed to allow his readers to marvel at Holmes’ extraordinary deductive skills; Ritchie’s movies are more concerned with emphasising the detective’s quirky personality and likeable devil-may-care attitude. Holmes (Robert Downey Jr – Due Date, The Judge) sports three-day stubble and a shaggy mane reminiscent of some dissolute poet, and spends more time fighting his foes in true action-hero fashion than engaging in deductive reasoning. He pre-determines his moves and anticipates his opponents counter-moves in slow-motion walkthrough, and action sequences are preceded by trademark Ritchie rapid-cut snapshots. Game of Shadows owes as much to the Indiana Jones movies as it does to Conan Doyle’s stories. But while its action sequences are as fast-paced as any other multiplex fodder, the rest of the movie is refreshingly free of flashy modern fads.

Downey Jr manages a decent English accent and forges, with Jude Law (Alfie, Dom Hemingway), a partnership strong enough to mean that romantic sub-plots are largely redundant. The plot has the duo crossing metaphorical swords with arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty, who is played with admirable restraint by Jared Harris, who really does look like a professor. Moriarty rarely gets his hands dirty, preferring instead to manipulate nations into war from beneath a cloak of anonymity in order to make a financial killing by providing the materials for the conflict, and makes a worthy screen adversary for Holmes. It remains to be seen whether the franchise (at the time of writing a third movie is planned) can continue to successfully cater to young audiences without losing sight of its source material, but so far Ritchie and his team have done a pretty good job…

(Reviewed 21st August 2015)

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