2011, Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Jared Harris. Directed by Guy Ritchie.
I don’t remember when I first discovered Sherlock Holmes; I just know that it seems I have always been a fan of mysteries, who-done-its, detective stories. The best are always the ones with really great, fully developed, interesting, quirky characters. The puzzle itself may not be all that interesting or even much of a challenge – it’s how the detective goes about solving it and the fun along the way that matters most. I used to enjoy the old late show movies with Basil Rathbone seeming to be the “definitive” Holmes (although I could never quite shake the image of him as the villain in Errol Flynn’s 1938 The Adventures of Robin Hood .”) Later, I really adored Jeremy Brett’s turn as the genius detective in the television series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. The episodes were beautifully filmed and also very true to the original works of Arthur Conan Doyle.
The world is quite a different place now from what Sherlock and Dr. Watson knew in their day. I suppose not everyone enjoys a period piece set in Victorian England, but for the life of me I can’t understand why not. Especially when it contains fast-paced action and thrills worthy of any modern-day blockbuster hit. Still, I know people (and you know who you are!) who disdain the thought of “updating” the master sleuth into an action hero actually capable of besting a villain in a fist fight. Or – heaven forbid – portray Dr. Watson as anything other than an old, stuffy, chair-bound commentator recounting the various cases that Mr. Holmes took on. The literary purists who complain that it is an abomination for Hollywood to tinker with classic literature don’t seem to realize that the only way some people are ever exposed to classic literature is in a Hollywood adaptation. Getting those people to actually read a book is an entirely different thing altogether, but at least they may have had the joy of experiencing wonderful characters in a great story.
Enough digression – on with the review…
It can be a tricky thing to adapt such well-known and revered characters as Holmes and Watson to a film format pleasing to modern audiences. The story has to do justice to the characters and the characters must embody the qualities that Doyle gave them. I was hesitant about the first Sherlock Holmes movie with Robert Downey, Jr. Certainly not that he wouldn’t be great in the role, but unsure about the “action/adventure” genre being applied to what is mostly a very cerebral type of story. When I saw the movie, though, I was convinced – yes, I could see Sherlock Holmes sizing up his opponents and analyzing their weaknesses in a split second and then mopping up the floor with them. Yes, I could see Dr. Watson as a younger man totally exasperated by his old friend yet also enjoying the adventures with him.
A Game of Shadows is quite possibly even better than the first one. Sherlock “ninja” Holmes and Dr. John “what-are-you-dragging-me-into-this-time” Watson are back at it once more. It is 1890 and Dr. Watson is about to be married just as Holmes puts together the pieces of a puzzle that spells potentially dire consequences for all of Europe, perhaps even the entire world. This time their nemesis is none other than the evil genius Professor Moriarty hatching an elaborate dastardly plot that will ensure he becomes the most powerful man in the world.
This adventure of epic scale with lots of humor and explosive action presents the great detective as cerebral as ever, but outfitted with finely honed fighting skills as well as his uncanny ability to apply logic and deductive reasoning to any problem. Much more than just a sidekick observer, Dr. Watson’s skills are as necessary to thwarting the villains as Holmes’. Though refurbished for a twenty-first century audience, Doyle would immediately recognize these characters as his creation. We share the good doctor’s concern for Holmes’ tendencies to addictive and self-destructive behaviors and his exasperation for Sherlock’s incessant bad timing. Robert Downey, Jr. is fantastic, especially when he is exhibiting the bizarre behavior of a man burdened with exceptional mental prowess who can’t quite get the hang of normalcy.
Stephen Fry as brother Mycroft Holmes (who calls the detective “Sherly”) is priceless! He shines slightly brighter than the rest of the superb supporting cast. There was a point in the second half of the movie where I became a little restless and a tiny bit fidgety, but it passed quite quickly. I could quibble with the use of the popular semi-stop-motion effect during a major chase scene as being a trifle tedious, as I didn’t see how it added anything to the story other than another minute or two. The twists and turns of the tale will keep viewers on their toes and the sumptuous production will transport them to a different era.
By the way, lest you think the ending was invented solely for this movie, be assured that it is straight from the genius of Arthur Conan Doyle. If you don’t believe me, go read the books.