Friday, December 23, 2011

New Holmes adventure is a fun 'game' to watch

Director Guy Ritchie joins forces once again with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law for another revisionist take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved detective Sherlock Holmes in “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.”

As was true with 2009’s “Sherlock Holmes,” this is not Doyle’s Holmes, and purists who were turned off by Ritchie and Downey’s interpretation of Holmes the first time will continue to be unimpressed by the second go around.

In many respects, this Holmes is a 19th-century James Bond. He is still an analytic genius with the ability to see the big picture, but he is no longer a man of quiet, introspective thought. Here he is a man of action. Not only is Holmes a thinker, he is a fighter. Scratch that, he’s a brawler.

The scale of events in the film are also on a Bond level with Holmes’ arch-nemesis, Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris), plotting to create world war for his own financial gain.

Harris, a character actor who some may recognize, but aren’t likely to remember from where, is ideally cast as Moriarty. There had been rumors that Brad Pitt was to be cast as Holmes’ intellectual match, but Harris was the right choice. Having someone as big as Pitt in the role would’ve been distracting.

The world of Ritchie’s Holmes is very over-the-top, but Harris isn’t, which creates an interesting push and pull with the material. Instead he is quiet and controlled in a way that is unsettling. There is an air of arrogant superiority and condescension about him that makes an audience love to hate him.

Holmes fans who have been repulsed by this version of the detective should at least take some solace in the fact that the dynamic between Holmes and Moriarty feels in tone with the source material. While Holmes has numerous brutal physical altercations throughout the film, his battles with Moriarty are of the wits. The climax of the film is a thrilling mental match up over a game of chess.

Much of the success of these new Holmes movies falls squarely on Downey. He brings a high energy to the character and a perfect balance of serious acting with winking humor. Once again, Law returns as the much put upon Dr. Holmes and, as was true in the first outing, Downey and Law have a fantastic dynamic.

Holmes is struggling with the fact that he is losing his only true friend and his partner in crime fighting to married life. There’s an interesting, playful tension between the two of them.

Rachel McAdams also returns as Holmes’ love, but the plot quickly dispatches her. The new female lead is Noomi Rapace (of the original “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” movies) as a gypsy who may have unintentional ties to Moriarty’s plot. It is clear she is a talented and interesting actress, but she isn’t given much to do.

Stephen Fry gets the juicy role of the “other Holmes” as Sherlock’s brother Mycroft. It is a fun, dry comic performance. There is a particularly funny scene in which the completely nude Mycroft greets Watson’s wife (Kelly Reilly) and is completely oblivious to how uncomfortable she is by his birthday suit.

The best thing Ritchie adds to the Holmesian lore is what could be termed as “Holmes vision.” In slow motion we see the way Holmes’ mind works as he plots out his plan of attack against attacking adversaries. This is something that worked brilliantly in the first film and it continues to work well here.

Above everything else, though, even when Ritchie can’t resist maniac editing or huge explosions, there is a cleverly written script by Michele and Kieran Mulroney that is full of wit and twists that work. The ending is genuinely surprising, funny and completely satisfying.

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