Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is the follow-up to 2009s Sherlock Holmes. We catch up with Holmes (Robert Downey Jr) on the eve of Watson’s (Jude Law) wedding. Watson plans to sacrifice his adventure with Holmes for the quiet married life. Unfortunately, Holmes is more obsessed with the on-going investigation into Professor Moriarty played by the excellent Jared Harris. As political agendas are unveiled it becomes clear that Moriarty won’t let Watson leave the fray so easily.
One difficulty faced by Ritchie is choosing which parts of his style should be salvaged to include in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Like Tarantino, sharp dialogue is a key element to a Guy Ritchie movie but it must fit the bill. Like Tarantino, Ritchie’s ear for zippy dialogue shows its age and with its rousing score, period styling, mockney humour and camp adventure there are definite comparisons to Pirates of the Caribbean that can be found in Sherlock Holmes.
Robert Downey Jr’s portrayal of a sexually ambiguous, protagonist with a penchant for inebriation would be far more effective if it hadn’t already been used by Johnny Depp for the last four Pirates films. Not to say that the comedic relief isn’t there but it belittles A Game of Shadows into almost family-safe territory which Ritchie would do well to avoid.
The performance of Jude Law is solid and with Stephen Fry pretty much playing himself (an intelligent Oscar Wilde-type) as Holmes’ older brother. The main disappointment is the involvement of Noomi Rapace as gypsy Madam Simza Heron. After cutting her teeth with an astounding portrayal of cyber-goth-hacker Lizbeth Salander in The Girl WithThe Dragon Tattoo her role in A Game of Shadows is disappointingly ordinary. This is more of a Kate Beckinsale role with little character development for her to explore it should have fallen to a more conventional looking actor to portray such a conventional role.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows does, however, impress in a different way. Ritchie has always had an eye for visuals and there is plenty to admire in this one. With the debate over stereoscopic 3D films on-going, it is comforting to see a director of Ritchie’s high profile choosing a more novel approach to create depth. Using a combination of Matrix-esque bullet-time effects and old-fashioned deep space techniques, the audience focusses on the characters in the mid-far distance while objects in the foreground explode creating an illusion more satisfying than the pointy techniques seen in Avatar. The visual techniques may, however, be the downfall of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Although impressive, they are slightly overused and some of the intensity is lost in spending so much time in near freeze-frame.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows falls somewhere between Scorsese’s Gangs of New York and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Visually impressive but with a script which is as erratic as it is smart.