At the movies: *Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows*

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Mystery/Suspense (2011), rated PG-12
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law
Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Written by: Michele Mulroney and Kieran Mulroney

Synopsis, via RottenTomatoes.com: Sherlock Holmes has always been the smartest man in the room…until now. There is a new criminal mastermind at large-Professor James Moriarty-and not only is he Holmes’ intellectual equal, but his capacity for evil, coupled with a complete lack of conscience, may actually give him an advantage over the renowned detective. When the Crown Prince of Austria is found dead, the evidence, as construed by Inspector Lestrade, points to suicide. But Sherlock Holmes deduces that the prince has been the victim of murder-a murder that is only one piece of a larger and much more portentous puzzle, designed by Professor Moriarty. The cunning Moriarty is always one step ahead of Holmes as he spins a web of death and destruction-all part of a greater plan that, if he succeeds, will change the course of history. — (C) Warner Bros

This was my impression of the first Sherlock Holmes movie, two years ago: 

“It was entertaining – Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law played off one another well – but I felt that it was a bit of a mess in spots, with a plot involving a highly-placed conspiracy and occult elements that seemed just a bit Dan Brown-influenced to me. I’ve never read any of the original Holmes novels, but I’ll just assume many liberties were taken. Still, it was fun, and RDJ is always very watchable.”

The follow-up, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, is less of a mess, and even more fun. I still haven’t read any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes novels, but have picked up enough about them through general cultural literacy to be able to place the characters in context. This movie adds two significant ones to the mix, Sherlock’s brother Mycroft and his arch-nemesis, Professor James Moriarty.

The plot synopsis quoted above is pretty vague, but regardless of this series’ roots in the traditions of mystery/detective fiction, plot doesn’t matter much in these film interpretations–although I do think the plot in this movie made more sense than the first one did. Giving a major role to the Holmes/Moriarty relationship helped with that, although the larger focus remains on the relationship between Holmes and his partner Dr. John Watson. Downey and Law seem to have real fun with these characters, and that’s where most of the fun of the movie comes from–RDJ remains very watchable, even as Holmes assumes a variety of disguises.

For me, some of the fun also derives from these films’ great sense of style, and I appreciated that even more this time, particularly the steampunk elements. Overall, A Game of Shadows isn’t as smart as its main characters are, but it’s got clever dialogue, some excellent set pieces, and moves along well–it’s a very enjoyable ride.

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