What would the holidays be without at least one loud action blockbuster to distract us from our families, the excessive amount of food we consume and the general madness of the season? Well the good news for us is that Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Ritchie, 2011) has arrived to shake away the doldrums…at least for two hours.
Our review coming up after the break…The first Sherlock Holmes film, also directed by former Mr. Madonna, Guy Ritchie, debuted two years ago in 2009. At the time it was unclear whether Ritchie’s rock’em, sock’em directing style was a good match for the story, which was modernized for the purposes of contemporary audiences with a greater emphasis on style and explosions. Critics mostly liked it (70% fresh on RottenTomatoes) and audiences liked it more, to the tune of $209 million gross in the US and an additional $315 million internationally. That’s an eye popping $524 million total, which in this day and age all but guarantees you a sequel (unless you’re Ang Lee’s The Hulk). And so here we are, two years and $125 million later with the sequel, A Game of Shadows.
So how is it? Well, critics like it slightly less than the first film (it’s currently sitting at 63% fresh) and boxoffice pundits are predicting a slight decrease in its opening weekend (though many elaborate that this is because the first film opened over Christmas proper, which means that every day was hyper-inflated. For more on this strange box office phenomenon, be sure to keep an eye on boxofficeprophet‘s 12 Days of Box Office feature in the coming days – it’s completely fascinating). But these are figures and statistics, right? What about the actual film?
Well, in a sentence, if you liked the first film, you’ll like the second.
Not unlike the revamped Batman franchise, the first film in the Sherlock Holmes franchise stayed away from the protagonist’s main adversary. The sequel rectifies this by introducing what Holmes (Robert Downey Jr) describes as “the greatest case of my career” in the elusive figure, Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris). The film follows Holmes’ attempt to track Moriarty and furthers the relationship between Holmes and his colleague, Dr. Tom Watson (Jude Law) as the latter marries. A significant factor in how much you enjoy Sherlock Holmes – the first and the second – depends on how much you enjoy the banter between Watson and Holmes, which some call homoerotic, some call brotastic (and should be put down) and other simply see as reflective of the kind of relationship that existed between men before the world became obsessed with defining everything in sexual terms.
To describe the plot is a fool’s errand, other than to say that Moriarty wants what all villains, especially Bond villains, want: power, wealth and control. In many ways this film feels like a 19th century version of a Bond film, complete with over the top set pieces, an unkillable protagonist, and witty asides. There’s even a new Holmes girl along for the ride in the form of Noomi Rapace, fresh from her tenure as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and making her English language debut. She replaces outgoing Holmes girl Rachel McAdams, who briefly cameos (That’s not a spoiler because the cameo opens the film and was widely publicized).
What else is there to say? Downey continues to entertain in the lead role (some critics have described this as his Captain Jack Sparrow equivalency) and Jude Law is solid as the straight man. Rapace brings a nice physical element to her role as a Gypsy caught up in the action, though it’s a challenge to watch her get shouldered around by goons after seeing her battle men twice her size as Lisbeth Salander.
The action set pieces are mostly unbelievable, but Ritchie has a good sense of timing (I’d argue this film is stronger than the first in that regard). One sequence in particular, glimpsed briefly in the trailer and television ads, has our characters on the run in the woods. After Watson rescues Holmes in a daring break-out from a secret weapons base, soldiers on the base load explosive shells into a high power canon that explode all around our heroes. The scene is familiar from a dozen other action films, but thanks to Ritchie and editor James Herbert, the sequence dazzles in a series of quick cuts and freeze frame motion. If you’re familiar with Ritchie’s oeuvre (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch), you’re well aware of his penchant for hyperstylized violence, which paired here with bullettime-esque slow motion produces a thrilling scene that got my adrenaline flowing. The only issue I had is that the scene is so effective that it ends up overshadowing the more low key climax that follows. In the end, I’ll remember this scene as the showstopper in an otherwise enjoyable (if slightly forgettable) action adventure.
Bottom line: Check it out if you saw and liked the first film, or you need to get away from the holidays for a few hours. Funny, exciting and entertaining – there are far worse ways to spend two hours at this time of year.
*Reminder* Be sure to check in over the holidays for the Bitch Awards, as TVangie and I count down our five best and worst film and television picks. It all kicks off Monday, Dec 19 with our #5 best & worst films of the year. What will make the list? Only the bitches know!