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
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.
By Christopher Grant Harris