SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS
Allow me, for a moment, to regail you with a tale of London...giddy London, as the Great Morrissey would sing. When I went to London (for the first time, I hope), there was only ONE must-stop on my list. I could go to the Tower of London, or Buckingham Palace, or the Churchill Museum & War Cabinet Rooms, or the West End, or the Globe and would not think much if I missed any of them (hence my idea of going back). However, there was ONE place, one Holy Shrine if you will, that I HAD to call on when there.
221 B Baker Street.
At long last, I would go to the home of Mr. Sherlock Holmes. After finding my way around the Underground, I managed to find the Baker Street station, and after a few blocks of going the wrong way, I finally arrived. I must have spend a good two hours there, marvelling at all the sights of this most sacred of spaces for a devoted Holmes fan as myself. I also spent more than a few pounds there, and yes, I got a deerstalker cap. I also got a derby, and wore it proudly...until I was told it made me look like I was pimping with Biggie Smalls. I don't know how...I got a medium.
While there, I saw several postcards and such. I think I saw some images of Basil Rathbone, and most certainly of Jeremy Brett (the definitive Holmes in my view). Now, this was before producer/writer Stephen Moffat of the longtime science-fiction program River Song (formerly known as Doctor Who) fame came up with Sherlock, so I have no idea if Benedict Cumberbatch now graces the same apartments of Holmes and the loyal Dr. Watson.
However, what I DON'T remember was seeing any pictures of Robert Downey, Jr. and/or Jude Law. I suspect it is because Sherlock Holmes was a piece of crap that bastardized the entire Holmesian canon, and to have anything related to Guy Ritchie's mess of a film would be an insult to the memory of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Or maybe I missed them.
In any case, seeing how Sherlock Holmes was such a hit (despite it bearing no real relation with the Conan Doyle stories save for the use of the character's names), it stood to reason that there would be another Sherlock Holmes movie. Thus, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Longtime readers will know that I always say that whenever you see a colon in the title, it's a clear indication that those behind that particular film will make more of them. Given that, it's not surprising that A Game of Shadows would be the first of perhaps many sequels.
What IS surprising is that somehow, despite their best efforts, they managed to make an even WORSE film than the first.
The plot of A Game of Shadows may be convoluted and idiotic on screen, but elementary to describe (allow me a few moments of levity): it's a remake of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in all but name. Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris) is planning to start a world war and profit from it. It's up to his 'intellectual equal Sherlock Holmes (Downey, Jr.) to stop him. To aid him is Dr. John Watson (Law) who doesn't want to help at all but finds himself doing so anyway...even if it means nearly missing his own wedding to Mary (Kelly Reilly). Holmes also has the wit and wisdom of his older brother Mycroft (Stephen Fry), a vague figure in government, while Professor Moriarty has expert assassin Colonel Sebastian Moran (Paul Anderson).
I'd like to stop for a moment to say seeing it was Colonel Moran in A Game of Shadow was about the only genuine surprise I had while watching.
Into this mix comes Gypsy Queen Simza (original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Noomi Rapace). She's there for the thinnest of reasons, as is American criminal mistress Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams, fulfilling what I guess was some contractual obligation to pop in for what was basically a pointless and contrived cameo).
Well, anyway Moriarty is going to start a war, Holmes is going to stop him, Watson is going to have his honeymoon ruined, and Rapace is going to make her American film debut.
That's about it in the story department.
A Game of Shadows appears desperate to go out of its way to be as idiotic and nonsensical as possible. We never ever stop to actually find out what is going on because Ritchie and his scribes (Michele and Kieran Mulroney) don't really care about an actual plot with such unnecessary things as motivation or even coherence. Instead, all they want is to use Holmes and Company for one mindless action scene after another--logic be damned. The truly important thing, Ritchie believes, is to show us his prowess with slow-motion.
And oh, how he shows us again and again how it will all turn out. As I watched A Game of Shadows, I kept referring to these as Holmes' 'psychic moments' because he wasn't actually deducing something. He was really predicting how something would turn out. That had the effect of essentially removing the mystery out of the situation (pun slightly intended). I counted a total of six of these 'psychic moments', though we see that in the final one Moriarty is equally blessed with such abilities. I figure this is how Moriarty is Holmes' equal and the 'Napoleon of Crime' in Holmes' words.
Somehow, the performances weren't there. They certainly weren't there for the women: McAdams disappears (perhaps forever) within the first ten to fifteen minutes, Reilly isn't there for more than that (and treated rather badly to boot) and Rapace has such a blank expression throughout A Game of Shadows. Perhaps she was trying to figure out what exactly the plot or or how her character related to anything to do with the film altogether.
I give some compliments to Harris (who actually would make a good President Grant in terms of appearance I thought) who was the calm and calculating villain, but Downey was a gigantic disappointment as Holmes. I will go on record to say that he will never be as good as Basil Rathbone and certainly nowhere near Jeremy Brett (perhaps not even Cumberbatch--and his Holmes is suppose to be a 21st Century update!) but at least in the first Sherlock Holmes he was more fun. Here, he appears to think he should mix a little bit of humor (such as dressing in drag) with a far more serious tone (and a weaker British accent). At one point, Downey, Jr. actually looked like The Joker from The Dark Knight.
Law isn't as good as he was in Sherlock Holmes, and I suppose it is because the material really isn't there. Equally useless is Fry (and I'll leave it up to you if you think Fry is generally useless in general or not). Any thought that this man is suppose to be some intellectual giant was pretty much abandoned when he blamed Polish Catholics for starting the Holocaust, but now it is completely gone. You can't be intelligent if you think we want to see a nude scene with Fry's bulbous body flapping about, let alone pay for such horrors . I've long argued that Fry is perceived as an intellectual purely based on his voice and speech intonations. I figure he's smarter than I am, but really, Stevie...you really think we want to see see YOU naked?
Even the little things I liked in the first Sherlock Holmes (such as Hans Zimmer's zippy score) were watered down and irrelevant in A Game of Shadows. What is suppose to be an epic escape into the forest turns instead into a showcase for more slow-motion, which dilutes everything.
I noticed that I've put in two water references, and I think it fitting. After all, in the opening we get the hint that Watson is writing The Final Problem, which for you non-Holmesian readers (and I suspect the majority of those watching the screening I attended were), is the story where Sherlock Holmes meets his end at the Reichenbach Falls, taking Professor Moriarty with him.
In this case, I don't necessary object to the sequel they are so nakedly (or should I say, Fry-ingly) announcing. After all, The Adventure of the Empty House, the Sherlock Holmes story that basically 'resurrected' Holmes from the dead, starts out from the ending of The Final Problem (which I figure the Mulroneys used as a basis for A Game of Shadows).
In terms of The Canon, it makes sense. In terms of finance for more Sherlock Holmes films, it makes sense. In terms of A Game of Shadows, it makes no sense because the film made one important and vital change from The Final Problem. In the latter, Watson did not actually witness Holmes' final battle with his arch nemesis. In the former, he most certainly did. Tricky thing this.
A Game of Shadows is just a way to ruin Sherlock Holmes' reputation among current film-goers who may never watch the Jeremy Brett series or the Basil Rathbone films (not having seen Sherlock, I'm in no position to say whether or not Moffat is destroying Sherlock Holmes the way he is determined to destroy Doctor Who, but now I digress). There is nothing in A Game of Shadows that is really Sherlock Holmes. It really Guy Ritchie adapting his signature fascination with the criminal underworld to a Victorian/Edwardian setting. A Game of Shadows in the end is SINO: Sherlock In Name Only.