Review: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows


Upon its release in 2009, I initially had almost no intention of seeing Guy Ritchie’s stylized cinematic rendition of Sir Arthur’s Conan Doyle’s beloved literary character. I can appreciate Ritchie’s efforts as a director, but they are all more or less cut from the same cloth: machismo dialogue spewed out by brawny men mixed with bullets and semi-automatic weapons to spare. His rise in the 1990’s was much like something of a secondhand Tarantino: aiming to play in the big leagues, but never making it out of the minors. I ended up seeing the first Sherlock Holmes based upon the clout of Robert Downey Jr. alone and was quite pleasantly surprised by it. Although by no means great, Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes featured likable chemistry between Holmes and his assistant, Watson, and held together with a fairly entertaining plot. Even Ritchie’s visual excesses with disorienting editing and hyperbolized slow motion actually worked in favor of his protagonist’s mindset. Additionally, the first film even had the courage to see Holmes for not just being a genius, but also a socially awkward, narcissistic individual. With this sequel, A Game of Shadows, Ritchie is more or less playing in the same park, for although the film is enjoyable enough during its runtime, it makes little effort to stand out from its predecessor.

When one looks at successful sequels in cinema, they may be truly few and far between, but the best films usually stand out on their own two feet, attached to a certain degree to their predecessors, but nonetheless totally different animals on their own. For instance, The Dark Knight is a completely different beast from Batman Begins. Though both films are narratively linked to each other, each has its own distinct personality and discernible visual style, and with the ad campaign building for the finale, it is becoming increasingly clear that The Dark Knight Rises will be an entirely separate animal of its own right. With the case of Sherlock Holmes, this sequel feels like more of the same with respect to what Ritchie provided for the first film. On the one hand that is not entirely bad, since one can then completely gauge an audience’s response, yet at the same time, it leaves little room for true surprises or genuine suspense for the film. What we end up getting is a “been there, done that” feel throughout the film, and very little novelty remains.

Granted, the chemistry between Downey Jr. as Holmes and Law as Watson is as charming and effortless as ever, and remains engaging throughout the entire proceedings of the film. Additionally, Jared Harris is icy fun as Holmes’ chief antagonist, Professor Moriarty, who is supposed to be his equal on multiple accounts, yet the film makes few efforts to engage this idea fully. It is more so implemented as exposition and put on display occasionally, but rarely developed. The biggest issue with A Game of Shadows is the lack on engagement in the plot. For such pulpy fun source material, one would think that the mysteries at the center of this film would take center stage, but one senses apathy towards the general scope of the narrative. The film begins literally in the middle of the action, which is initially intriguing, but then makes it difficult to orient oneself in the proceedings. Plot points are breezed through as afterthoughts, and supposedly major characters are given absolutely nothing to do, such as Noomi Rapace as a gypsy fortune teller, who apparently has a stake in Holmes and Watson’s investigation. It is as if Ritchie is simply trying to find excuses to have more action set pieces worked in.

With that said, a couple of the action scenes are quite fun, especially a well executed train sequence which employs action, suspense and comedy to maximal effect. To reiterate a favorable aspect of both Sherlock Holmes films, the editorial work and slow motion are quite impressive when Holmes pre-visualizes how he might defeat an opponent. Slow motion is such a bore nowadays due to its ubiquitousness, but Ritchie takes this familiar element to his own cinema and applies it quite well to visual storytelling. If only he took the same care in bolstering his narrative and truly raising the bar to set his film apart from the pack. Otherwise, that ball park is going to get awfully lonely.

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~ by romancinema on December 22, 2011.

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