SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS (2011)


Director: Guy Ritchie

Writers: Michele Mulroney, Kieran Mulroney
Based on characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Jared Harris, Noomi Repace, Rachel McAdams, Stephen Fry...

Release date: 16 December, 2011

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA): PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and some drug material.

Runtime: 129 minutes

Genres: Action/Adventure/Crime

Reviewed by Larry Jung

Don't come to A GAME OF SHADOWS expecting the Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson of THE HOUND OF THE BASERVILLES. A GAME OF SHADOWS has updated Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson for the tastes and expectations of today's movie audience. In this reincarnation, Holmes's great intellect and razor-sharp powers of observation and deduction are combined with the martial arts and survival skills we've come to expect from a movie action hero. Hand-to-hand combat is more "John Woo" style than the Marquis of Queensbury. There are gun fire and explosions enough to satisfy today's movie goers. The action sequence with a Maxim machine gun spewing bullets at Holmes and Watson is worthy of any of the recent James Bond movies.

The film makers pay homage throughout the movie in several brief segments that will delight fans of the original Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes stories. At one point Holmes writes a message to Watson that reads: "Come at once if convenient. If inconvenient, come all the same." This was from "The Adventure of the Creeping Man." When Watson is first introduced to Mycroft, the lighthearted banter between Holmes and his brother Mycroft (Stephen Fry) as they swap deductions is familiar to those who have read "The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter." The spectacular waterfalls of the climactic fight between Holmes and Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) immediately brings to mind the falls of Reichenbach in "The Final Problem."

Carried over from the first Sherlock Holmes movie starring Robert Downey Jr. is the film's signature visual effect: Holmes "seeing" before-hand all that will logically happen in a particular situation. This ability to intuitively observe and deduce is captured for the audience by hearing and seeing Holmes describe to himself the sequence of events that he foresees will happen. The logical outcome of causes and effects. Right before a fight, we visually see, along with Holmes, in slow motion each blow, parry, and kick before it actually happens.

To fulfill being a movie action hero, Sherlock Holmes has changed from the blood-hound of the Conan Doyle stories to a leopard. Holmes is now a muscular athlete. Robert Downing Jr. is a definite departure from the iconic Sherlock Holmes in popular culture. For purists, Downey's portrayal will initially be a shock. This Holmes is not the English gentleman portrayed by Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett. Downey's Holmes is often unshaven and slovenly even when not in disguise. He delights in shocking the Victorian sensibilities of those around him.

Jude Law is Dr. John Watson. Instead of the sturdy full-bodied Dr. Watson of the Conan Doyle stories, Watson has now become more Holmes-like with a slender body. But that body is as strong and as fast as a whip. Watson is not a slow-witted, bumbling fool. Law plays Watson as a loyal friend with unending patience for his brilliant friend's eccentric behavior. He recognizes Holmes's immense talents in the service of justice. But Watson's Victorian ideas of society and being an English gentleman serve to make him the butt of endless teasing by Holmes. Watson often loses patience with Holmes, but remains loyal and trustworthy, and always keen for a brawl. Watson, in his own right, is an expert fighter and expert shot who on more than one occasion has tipped the balance of a fight in Holmes's favor.

As partners, Holmes and Watson complement each other. Holmes is impulsive, headstrong, self-centered, aloof, and bohemian. Watson is cool-headed and proper; an English gentleman. Holmes sees that Watson has the same love of danger and the same sense of justice. For all Watson's annoyance over Holmes's bohemian, even anti-social, behavior, Watson remains true to Holmes. This heroic partnership, however, is to be abruptly ended just when Holmes needs Watson the most to prevent a war that would involve all of Europe. Watson plans to marry Mary Mortsan (Kelly Reilly) and devote his life to his new bride and family life.

If you liked THE LEAGUE OF EXTRORDINARY GENTLEMEN, I think you will enjoy A GAME OF SHADOWS. The visuals and special effects were as good as in THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN. The plots are similar: to save Europe from war by defeating a master-mind who will make a fortune selling arms and munitions to all sides. Robert Downey's performance is at times quirky but strong enough to carry the story. But it is Jude Law's performance as Dr. Watson that makes us care what happens to his friend and colleague Sherlock Holmes.

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