- Title: Sherlock Holmes A Game of Shadows
- Director: Guy Ritchie
- Date: 2011
- Studio: Warner Brothers
- Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama
- Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law, Jared Harris, Noomi Rapace, Rachel McAdams, Kelly Reilly, Stephen Fry
- Format: Color, Widescreen
- DVD Format: R1, NTSC
“Oh, how I’ve missed you, Holmes.” — Dr. John Watson
“It’s so overt, it’s covert.” — Sherlock Holmes
“What better way to conceal a killing, no one looks for a bullet hole in a bomb blast.” — Dr. Watson
“They’re dangerous at both ends, and crafty in the middle. Why would I want anything with a mind of its own bobbing about between my legs?” — Sherlock Holmes (on horses)
It isn’t often that an adventure film sequel is as good as or better than the original, but Sherlock Holmes A Game of Shadows is one brilliant film, just as good if not better than Sherlock Holmes. Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films are proving to be crack to the SH fan — doing things any fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s writing has always wanted to do (Who hasn’t wanted to push Mary off a railway bridge? Or to not only have Watson see Holmes’ fall at Reichenbach, but to have a hint that he knew Holmes wasn’t dead?) Holmes and Watson were the original “buddy cop show” (though neither was a cop) and Holmes the original geek (used in the best sense, not the pejorative one) Ritchie’s films have come about at the most appropriate time, here’s hoping to a long and successful series.
In Sherlock Holmes A Game of Shadows, we immediately see the close friendship between Holmes and Watson. They finish each other’s sentences, know each other’s moves, and have complete trust in each other when it really counts. Holmes doesn’t discount Watson’s abilities, especially as a soldier, or as a doctor.
This film introduces Professor James Moriarty, as Holmes’ equal and opposite. Their conflict is played out in a metaphor of chess, and both are very good at the game. But, Holmes probably wouldn’t have directly challenged Moriarty, even when he finds out, to his horror, exactly what Moriarty is up to, if it wasn’t for Moriarty’s murdering of Irene Adler, and threats against Dr. John Watson, and his wife, Mary. The film also plays with real historical events, including a series of anarchist bombings in Europe (which did happen, especially in Russia) and the prelude to World War I. Moriarty’s plan, in fact, is to use the existing alliances and rivalries in Europe to start a world war — twenty three years early. This, after he has bought-up every business that can profit from war from bandages (cotton) to bullets (weapons and chemical warfare). Moriarty owns cotton, steel, opium (used to make morphine – the anesthetic of the time), and the aforementioned arms. As Holmes points out when Moriarty is torturing him, “Now that you own the supply you intend to create the demand.”
The film also introduces Mycroft, Sherlock’s brother, played by Stephen Fry, as quite possibly more eccentric than Sherlock. However, it is to Mycroft that Sherlock trusts the health and welfare of Mary, after dropping her from a moving train into a lake to save her from Moriarty’s attack. Watson is quite distraught at Holmes’ cavalier treatment of his wife, until he realizes that Holmes was in complete control, timing things perfectly, and his actions were to protect Mary. Quite a lot of Holmes’ actions in the film are to protect Mary and John; John because he is Holmes’ only friend and Mary because she is important to John.
I, personally realized the film was doing “The Final Problem”, when Moriarty’s men attack on the train, but I still loved just how much Ritchie opened up that particular story and brought more to it. That Holmes sends John on an errand so he can sneak into Moriarty’s weapons factory in Germany speaks volumes of how much he cares. That John returns and immediately figures out how to rescue Holmes, not only shows his own intelligence, but his own feelings for Holmes.
The escape, with the gypsies through the forest was brilliant. First the direction, using a stop-motion technique to freeze the action briefly, enabling the audience to actually follow it was brilliant. The complete chaos of the explosions, gunshots, and use of big guns (howitzers, etc) brings to mind World War I. There is also complete trust between Holmes and Watson, when at one point, Holmes twirls the stock of a gun, and Watson is right there to receive it as Holmes hands it off. It’s Watson who fires the weapon at Moriarty’s men.
After escaping, Holmes, who’s been tortured, Watson, and Sim, their Gypsy companion, are in a railway car. Holmes stops breathing and his heart stops. Watson beats on his chest (this is a little premature – I don’t think even a doctor would know CPR in 1891) but is unsuccessful. Then he has a lightbulb moment – and uses Holmes’ wedding gift — pure adrenalin, that Holmes had extracted in an experiment, and Watson had seen Holmes use to revive Gladstone (Watson’s dog) after the dog ate something poisonous. The adrenalin works and Holmes jumps up, babbling of bad dreams. But the entire scene is brilliant. Watson pounds on Holmes’ chest crying that Holmes, “Bloody well not going to die on me!” and shouting at him to “come on”. Watson’s brief devastation as he realizes that his best friend has died, before the light bulb goes off, perfectly illustrates his caring for Holmes.
Holmes, Watson, and Sim arrive in Switzerland and meet Mycroft, but discover the peace conference is still planned. Holmes dances first with Sim, and then with Watson. (Another perfect moment!) He points out that Rene has had his face altered by experimental surgery. Holmes trusts Watson to find Rene, Sim’s brother and stop the planned assignation that will touch off a war, while he goes to confront Moriarty personally. Holmes and Moriarty plan a chess game together, without even using a board, while Moriarty both threatens Watson and Mary, and tells Holmes there is nothing he can do to stop him. Holmes sacrifices his Queen in the game, to win. The two then fight, first in their heads (each plotting out moves and counter moves, before doing a thing). Holmes, knowing he is still weak from his injuries at Moriarty’s hands, grabs Moriarty and sacrifices himself, dragging them both over a balustrade into the rushing waterfall under the castle of Reichenbach. Watson, having found Rene, and stopped the assignation attempt, opens the door, a smile on his face to tell Holmes of their success. But, his smile evaporates, as he sees Holmes and Moriarty fall into depths. We then hear Watson reading the end of “The Final Problem”, as a voice-over, which then becomes Watson typing the story. Mary comes to him, reminding him of their planned honeymoon trip. However, Watson gets a strange package in the post, Mycroft’s oxygen breather. Watson leaves, and Holmes appears, having been hidden by his camouflage. He adds a question mark to the words, “The End”, at the end of Watson’s story, cut to credits. Simply brilliant!
Sherlock Holmes A Game of Shadows is brilliant. The directing is perfect. I loved the ramped-up “Holmes vision”, which really gets into Holmes’ head and shows the audience how he thinks. Also, it makes Holmes seem less arrogant or untouchable/non-understandable by allowing the audience to see just how his mind works, rather than letting his deductions and actions seem almost magical or like some sort of trick. The friendship of Watson and Holmes was handled very well. I loved that they finished each other’s sentences, knew each other’s moves, but also, at their core, Watson cares deeply for Holmes and Holmes cares deeply for Watson. It is the male friendship that makes the pair timeless. And the plot was extremely well put together. Moriarty not merely as a master criminal, but an extremely crafty war profiteer, how appropriate. All in all, I really don’t think anything could have made this film better, I really loved it and highly recommend it.
Recommendation: An absolute must see!
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film: It Could Happen to You (a recent purchase) or Shrek (on list)