Arthur Conan Doyle’s master detective has had many incarnations. He’s been gay, camp, serious, tall, short, loud, quiet and most recently a bit of a brawler but one thing remains constant. Sherlock Holmes is always interested in the questions at hand. How can a movie be both clever and idiotic? How can it simultaneously be frenetic and lazy? How can a film possibly be so modern yet so out-dated in equal measure? Well look no further because Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is here to provide the answers.
Never one to take a fair, even-handed approach to those untrustworthy thieving gypsy types (my entire experience based of course upon Guy Ritchie films and My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, and the fact that I’m nothing if not an idiotic mindless consumer) his latest incidentally concerns a traveller called Simza (Noomi Rapace). Through some convoluted plot machinations she becomes embroiled in a scam masterminded by the masterful Moriarty (Jared Harris) a Cambridge professor and Holmes’ intellectual match who plans on starting a World War. Sherlock catches wind and soon finds himself in a game of cat and mouse with his ultimate rival. Meanwhile Dr Watson ties the knot with his fiancée causing Holmes to slaver homoerotic subtext all over himself and Watson at any given opportunity from then on. Business as usual then.
As is typical of this wildly contradictory film Robert Downey Jr’s finally goes full schizo with Sherlock and almost comes unstuck. The whole flawed/crazy genius schtick can only go so far before it becomes a bit too random for its own good. One minute a super sleuth the next an petulant child wearing ridiculously implausible disguises, it takes Jude Law’s Dr Watson to save the day in the end. Playing a solidly good straight man he helps keep Sherlock’s lunacy on a somewhat level playing field. But rest assured, when the duo get it right it’s great entertainment.
Ritchie’s direction also has its ups and downs. He directs everything nowadays likeThe Matrix didn’t happen. When in 1999 the Wachowski’s started slowing the world down for dramatic effect they immediately brought slo-mo into then straight out of fashion. God knows how they managed to do it but Ritchie hasn’t noticed. Whilst there is an actual reason for Sherlock’s slo-mo fight planning, the splintering tree scene replete with massive high-caliber explosions should seem tonally redundant. But somehow it isn’t. It all seems terribly out of date and try hard and sometimes it may seem like it’s all Ritchie can do to stop himself from screaming ‘stylish steam-punk anachronism’ in your face but somehow he pulls it off. Amongst the numerous swiftly cut montages and the over the top camerawork it really is a joy to behold such a tonal marriage between the film’s impressive period feel and it’s more modern and often tacky cinematic garnish.
So, whilst Ritchie does a bombastic job Hans Zimmer attempts to do the same, but the score is not a patch on his original for 2009’s Sherlock Holmes. Blasting away with a harrumph here and a ear splitting parp there, it starts to really grate after a while. The intermittent parping also continues in the script which whilst sporadically clever and witty too often falls into nonsense and dead ends. It is also no where near clever enough to satisfy. Holmes and Moriarty’s final face off as so often happens in this film is a physical fight rather than a complex and erudite unfurling of all that has come before. Often instead of reasoning and deduction Holmes solves things with a gun or his fists. I think it’s telling that the main set piece on show here involves a huge munitions factory.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is therefore a bit of a mess. But an entertaining one nonetheless. Oh, and Stephen Fry’s Mycroft gets naked. There’s always that…