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Sherlock Holmes: a Game of Shadows

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    Posted: Mar-03-2015 at 12:28pm
Sherlock Holmes: a Game of Shadows (2011), Rated PG-13
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Jared Harris, Noomi Rapace, Paul Anderson, Stephen Fry
Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Reviewed by Dave Felts
Rating: (3.5/5)  

I like Robert Downey Jr. I enjoy his acting, and I guess I appreciate the travails he?s overcome. Most of us like to see people make good and bury their demons. I think he was the perfect fit for Iron Man, and he's a good fit for (this version of) Sherlock Holmes. 

I'm hampered here by my lack of knowledge about the 'real' Sherlock Holmes, so I'm afraid I can't offer any assessment of how close Downey's character, or the other characters, or the movie's plot, corresponds to the actual stories. Judging by Hollywood's past track record, my guess would be that the deviation is pretty large.

That said, as a movie, and as a self-confessed Sherlock Holmes ignoramus, it was a pleasant enough way to spend a couple of hours with my 12 year-old son. Downey infuses the character with a sort of manic intensity that, based on his past history, he probably didn't have to work too hard to dig up. 

Sherlock Holmes: a Game of Shadows follows the adventures of (who else) Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.) as he investigates a series of crimes around Europe, having developed the theory that all these crimes are linked to one man. That man is Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris), who can claim to be be the intellectual equal (and perhaps physical superior) of Holmes himself. 

Dr. Watson (Jude Law) gets dragged into the caper, not as reluctant as he pretends to be, despite his recent marriage and protestations of wanting to final settle down to a soothing and tranquil life with his new wife. Sherlock Holmes' brother (Stephen Fry) -- I didn't know he had one -- makes a peripheral (and somewhat unnecessary in my opinion) appearance, first introduced at Watson's bachelor party, and later (sans pants and in another superfluous scene) as the safeguard of Watson's wife. There's also the fortune telling gypsy Sim (Noomi Rapace), who, due to her brother, finds herself embroiled when she's targeted by Moriaty. 

Various assassination attempts are made, action ensures, Europe is traveled, and for the most part, good fun is had. Holmes, with the assistance of Watson and Sim, begins to narrow the vice on Moriarty, but might just find himself over matched and outplayed. In a climatic sequence on balcony overlooking a thundering waterfall, Holmes and Moriaty settle the battle of wits (and fists) once and for all. 

Law makes an admirable Watson, sometimes a poor schmuck dragged along willy-nilly by Holmes outrageous behavior, but, even then, seemingly enjoying himself all the while. It's not hard to see that Watson is being dishonest with himself when he says all he wants to do is settle down to a quiet life. I enjoyed Rapace's gypsy as well. I recognized her from the Swedish Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy. She isn't given a lot of opportunity here, but what she is given, she makes the most of. 

Jared Harris as Moriarty makes an adequate, if somewhat uninspiring, villain, a poster child for the banality of evil. I suppose, given that he is an Evil Professor bent on making millions, and not an Evil Mastermind (a la Red Skull from Captain America) bent on world domination, his characterization was apt. Still, it would have been nice to see him add a bit more flair and vigor to the role. Sometimes quiet, calm menace works, and sometimes it's flat. His associate, the assassin Colonel Sebastian Moran, played by Paul Anderson, seemed much more dangerous.

Rachel McAdams makes what amounts to little more than a cameo appearance in the beginning of the film as Irene Adler, Holmes love interest carried over from the first film, her purpose evidently not being much more than to add some additional motivation to Holmes' relentless pursuit of Moriarty.

Forewarned is forearmed: this isn't a mystery film, it's an action film, with plenty of fights and explosions and narrow escapes. If you're a Holmes fan going in looking for a cerebral exercise similar to what you might have encountered in the stories, or a deliberate unraveling of a whodunit by a mastermind detective, you're going to be disappointed. Holmes is less sleuth and more James Bond. Cross Indiana Jones with Mission Impossible, set it in a Steampunk universe, and the result would be Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

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