This weekend the new Sherlock Holmes adaptation hits the screens. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows pits the titular detective against his arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty. The first Sherlock Holmes was a resounding success and an excellent movie. Hot off the acclaim of the wonderful Iron Man film, and before the still good but disappointing Iron Man 2, Mr. Downey brought a new vibrant Holmes to the screen. Continuing off the promise of the first, director Guy Ritchie brings us a film that is even more exciting than the first without losing much of the charm that made it enjoyable.
What makes Game of Shadows fun is the interesting choices the director made. Unlike the previous film which keeps the villain in the shadows by hiding his methods, and despite the title, the audience sees Moriarty from the start. I found this a refreshing change of pace, many films are afraid to keep the villain in the audience’s sight. Seeing Moriarty work made it feel more like an even match between the two men, rather than artificially trying to make him one-up Holmes from the shadows at every turn.
Furthermore, this movie did a better job of letting some of the other characters get their moments of awesome. Jude Law’s portrayal of Dr. Watson was more engaging and realistic than the original, and his moments to shine make the famous partnership all the more believable. When we see how useful Watson is to Holmes, how much he needs him, it is easier to understand why he gives his friend such a hard time about getting married and settling down. Noomi Rapace, a swedish actress famous for her portrayal of the main character in the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo films, turns in a strong performance as Sim, a gypsy that gets involved in their adventure. The fact that she never is forced to be a love interest only makes her character more engaging, and though she never manages to steal the screen from Downey and Law, Rapace shines in her role.
Stephen Fry deserves special mention as Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock’s older brother. He is hilarious, as one would expect from Fry, but also fits perfectly into the role of eccentric relative. In seeing him we get a deeper understanding of Sherlock’s peculiar nature. British actor Jared Harris plays Professor Moriarty, and does it with subdued brilliance. While he is never the charming scoundrel like Holmes, he does seem every bit as intelligent and formidible. What Holmes brings to the table in erratic genius, Moriarty counters with dependable brilliance. They are perfect foils for one another. As for Downey himself, what can I say that anyone who saw the first film does not already know? Charming, egocentric, and somewhat broken, his Holmes is someone to be admired and pitied all at once. For an action movie, and make no mistake that this entry in the series is very much an action film, the characters are still charming and engaging. Sherlock Holmes most of all.
The plot itself is probably the weakest link in the chain. While not bad by any means, it fails to rise to the level of the characters. We see Holmes trying to stop Moriarty from starting World War I about fifteen to twenty-ish years too early, and Moriarty warns him that he is not just opposing him, but human nature itself. Could such a genius have a better master plan than war profiteering? Probably, but the truth is that it does not matter. Seeing the cast at work is worth the price of admission, the excellent action and passable plot are just extra icing on the cake.