I liked Guy Richie’s 2009 rendering of Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes,” with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law but I think I liked it for the wrong reasons. I didn’t like it so much for Richie’s sleek, flashy, action oriented approach to the book series. Instead, the thing I most enjoyed about it was watching Holmes solve the mystery using his keen, almost sixth sense to perceive and digest clues.
Now we have 2011’s “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” and Holmes (Downey) is still an action hero. He can fight like a pro and is very handy with weapons. Although, for being an action hero, he’s one of the smartest ones around. He’s always observing, always focused and his sense of spotting detail is amazing. He can play out all the possible outcomes in a fight, or set up contraptions to go off at the precise time he needs them to. He can detect something as seemingly inconvenient as a stain on the ground and connect it with something else. And he can do it all through his mind before the first action is performed. It’s said that we only use 20% of our brains; well, I’m convinced Holmes uses more than that.
But not so fast! Holmes may be incredibly intelligent (and strikingly good looking) but in “A Game of Shadows” he meets his match, in the form of Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris), a math professor who’s just as smart as Holmes is but deliciously evil at the same time. I’m not going to go in too deep with details of the plot. It involves Anarchists, and bombs, a gipsy fortuneteller and a whole lot of assassins but Moriarty is all you need to know about.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with “Sherlock Holmes,” Moriarty is his arch nemesis and doppelganger and in the movie he wants to take over the world, or something to that measure. So Holmes and his partner Watson (Law) are on the case, finding clues here, beating up bad guys there. Going from London, to Paris, even to the high mountains of Switzerland.
There’s no denying that the movie is well made. Richie’s direction is slick and fast paced; cinematographer Phillipe Rousselot photographs the movie in gloomy colors; the production design is right on the mark, down to the very last horse drawn carriage; and Hans Zimmer’s slightly twangy, instrumental soundtrack accompanies the movie nicely. The script by Kieran Mulroney and Michelle Mulroney is intricate and meaty, although it does run on a little long at the end.
One of the good things about “Sherlock Holmes” is that it’s complex but so simple. Yes, Holmes and Watson solve these elaborate mysteries but everything is explained to you throughout the film, since you don’t notice a lot of the small clues they find because you’re focused on the action. By the end when the grand finale comes there’s no confusion involved, which makes you appreciate it much more. This is undoubtedly one of the reasons behind the 2009 movie’s major success. Most action movie audiences don’t want to have to do a lot of thinking. Holmes does it for you.
The other reason why the 2009 film was so popular was the action. As I said, Holmes beats up people left and right and shoots them too. There’s a rather large, semi slow motion action sequence that involves Holmes, Watson and others running through a forest as they are being fired at with rifles as well as bombs. This is all fine for the most part but it doesn’t really add much to the movie except for action. The aforementioned scene is very thrilling, but it’s just that it doesn’t take a smart person like Holmes to do it. Sylvester Stallone does it all the time. Seeing Holmes figure out the mystery using his reasoning and thinking, as opposed to his fists, is still the thing I find most satisfying about both movies.
It’s always entertaining to watch Downey Jr. perform. He has a natural screen charisma and his witty, biting delivery of dialog is like watching a true pro. And together he and Law have impeccable timing. However, much like with the second “Iron Man” movie, Downey is milking this performance for all it’s worth. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to stand it for another movie.
In the end Holmes, the character, is the one that will stay with you--his courage, his dedication, his skill. Even though he’s trying to help people by solving these crimes, he does it for the pure thrill. As a quote near the end reads, “He played the game for the game’s sake.”