Every great hero requires a great villain. This movie has neither, but it does have a passably entertaining Robert Downey Jr. queering and vamping it up quite a few notches as Sherlock Holmes and a robustly masculine portrayal of Dr. John Watson by Jude Law. The duo have the camaraderie down pat in their second outing together and the back and forth between them is hilarious. The two make the movie watchable. There is plenty of humor as well but with some zingers missing the mark.
I won’t go too much into the story as every other review will have a gist. In a nutshell, Professor Moriarty wants to be the catalyst to start a World War which in turn will create a climate rife with demand for his armaments and munitions factories, making him gobs of money. Sherlock Holmes wants to be a very big spoke in the well-oiled machinations of this anarchist-capitalist-power-brokering villain. What I want to focus for the rest of the review is the conceptualization, characterization and execution of the movie. To borrow a line from the movie, “Do you need me to elaborate? Or can we just crack on?”.
Other than just the names of the lead characters and the era, Guy Ritchie’s production does not have much in common with Doyle’s creation of the Holmesian world. The move exists entirely in a parallel universe and it does not take too much deductive reasoning to figure out that the driving force behind the movie is Hollywood’s sole intention of creating serial cash cow. Again to borrow a line from Downey’s Holmes, “It’s so overt that it’s covert!”……indeed! Already the series is starting to sag and lose steam with those lofty intentions not providing enough intellectual heft to the movie.
With all the above being said, judging the movie on its own merit, it does have its moments and fairly good entertainment value. But my disappointment stems from the fact that I expect more from a movie that has the name “Sherlock” in it. There are no great deductive sequences that truly stand out and even if there is potential, it is lost in frenzied chopping and editing of the film. The fast pacing of the movie does not cover for the yawning chasms of eminently forgettable sequences and some dreary camera work. Somebody fell asleep behind the camera only to wake up and go hyper kinetic on the editing table. I understand that the judicious use of dirt and darkness adds some grittiness to a movie but the color palette of the movie is stubbornly dark and gloomy. The lead characters and particularly Sherlock seems to be grimy and unkempt as a norm. It would be easy to mistake him for a homeless hobo and I think this effect was intentional to a degree but not to the extent seen on the screen. Apparently the smartest man in the room is also the dirtiest as well.
For the action fans – there are some elaborate action set pieces, especially the one at the end where the pre World War 1 German army is field-testing their earth-shattering artillery and machine guns on our protagonists who are trying to outrun all of it. The camera zooms, pans and freeze-frames the action to dramatic effect with the booming soundtrack cranking up the adrenalin. On the contrary, the hand-to-hand combat at the beginning of the movie to showcase Sherlock’s fighting skills doesn’t flow very well. There is an acrobatic chase sequence in the middle which is a little bit too boiler-plate but none-the-less entertaining.
My other big disappointment is the characterization of Professor Moriarty which is highly underwhelming. Jared Harris maybe a decent actor but neither the menace or the genius of Professor Moriarty is sufficiently brought to the fore in his portrayal. Instead of crackling intensity and electricity, the wattage seems rather dim in the one-on-one scenes between Holmes and his arch-enemy Moriarty. This is a big letdown given the intellectual heft of both the characters. The climax does make up for it’s lack thereof but it’s an effort too little too late. Noomi Rapace as the gypsy Madam Simza is efficient and shows high promise. But her presence seems underutilized after her star-making turn in the Millennium series. The brother of Sherlock, Mycroft Holmes as played by Stephen fry is another oddball whose intelligence is rather overshadowed by a concerted effort on the portrayal of goofiness as a primary characteristic. None the less, the performance is still enjoyable.
In totality, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows seems like a middling effort from Guy Ritchie but ably and gamely carried on by Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. It still remains a poorer cousin of the first Sherlock Holmes from 2009. The sum of its parts is palatable and entertaining none the less. I deduce that to get the best bang for your buck for this movie would be to forget all preconceived notions of Sherlock Holmes and just accept the movie on its own terms. That’s one way to avoid any disappointment.