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

Directed by Guy Ritchie

SH:AGOT (or Shagot as I will henceforth call it) is a very fun, bright, lively, and enjoyable flick. It lacks, however, a certain magic cohesiveness that the 2009 Sherlock Holmes had. The 2009 movie had a freshness and newness that made it exciting and delightful, which is almost impossible for a sequel like this to recapture. What it does recapture is the spirit of fun and excitement and the excellent cast chemistry.

Holmes and Watson start this movie rather at odds, with Watson about to be married and Holmes seeing absolutely no use for such an institution, especially when the two of them have such exciting adventures ahead of them! There are many comedic scenes, such as when Holmes does not invite any of Watson’s chums to his bachelor party, and indeed the entire party is just a pretense so that Holmes can gather clues. Holmes actually devises a plan to remove Watson’s bride from the equation (accurately surmising that her life is in grave danger and by doing so he would be protecting her) ultimately just so that Watson would have no choice but to team up with him to take on this grand mystery.

It is a very strange mystery movie, though, in that very little of the villain’s plot is actually a mystery. Indeed, Holmes lays out said plot well before the second act’s climax. The central mystery of the movie is really how to prove any of it. The Moriarty of Shagot is a criminal mastermind in that he is uncannily adept at covering his tracks. Holmes and Watson know exactly what he has done (almost) every step of the way, but they just cannot prove anything.

Shagot also has a different type of suspense. Instead of the central question of the film being, “Will Holmes solve the mystery?” the central question of Shagot is, “Will Holmes simply be able to survive long enough to solve the mystery?” The physical danger is amped up incredibly. Yes, there were fights and action scenes in the 2009 movie, but the sheer scale of danger posed (especially in the masterful second act climax) in Shagot makes one genuinely fearful of Holmes’s physical safety. This is only fitting for a tale (very) loosely based on Doyle’s The Final Problem, wherein Holmes and Watson spend the majority of the tale running for their lives.

The three best scenes in the movie are the direct, face-to-face meetings between Holmes and Moriarty. I must say I was expecting something different from Moriarty in this movie. He is ever the cold, calculating evildoer, but with such fun and radical takes on Holmes and Watson as these movies have taken, I almost expected a fun and radical take on their nemesis. But Jared Harris’s (no know relation) Moriarty is very good, and the scenes of him and Holmes together do a great job of convincing us that the two are evenly matched, even though Holmes as always has an unknowable trick up his sleeve that is only revealed during their final confrontation. I must say I really appreciated the fact that their final confrontation was not some overblown action sequence, but a tense and quiet meeting of diabolical and deranged minds that ends in a surprising but ultimately logical decision over the roaring Reichenbach Falls.

There is one brilliant addition to the cast in Stephen Fry as Sherlock’s older brother Mycroft. His nonchalant, flippant, not-give-a-damn brilliance is quite a hoot. There is also unfortunately a sad cast subtraction in Rachel MacAdams’s Irene Adler. Poor Irene. And the new female lead played by Noomi Rapace is infinitely less interesting and has basically no sexual chemistry with Holmes whatsoever.

I did enjoy Shagot quite a bit, but ultimately it didn’t stick with me as much as the 2009 film did. Whether it will grow on me with repeat viewings (as Iron Man 2 surprisingly did) remains to be seen.


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