SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS. Starring Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Stephen Fry, Jared Harris, Rachel McAdams, Kelly Reilly. Directed by Guy Ritchie. . 129 minutes. Rated M (Violence).
When Guy Ritchie’s first Sherlock Holmes film was released in 2009, it seemed as if the screenplay and the new imagining of Holmes and his solving crimes was like a Graphic Novel. Holmes had become something of an action hero and quite a pugilist – bringing something of the 21st century into a 19th century society. If that was true then, it is even truer this time. Perhaps Sherlock had also had a premonition of Indiana Jones!
The first thing to do is include a warning. Purists beware – if the reaction of purists that I saw the film with is any indicator. They did not like this rather rambunctious Holmes – who seems to have studied some martial arts since the first film.
Be that as it may, the two films are what might be called ‘rollicking adventures’ and Robert Downey makes this kind of Holmes his own. There are the traits that Conan Doyle gave his creation, including his penchant for disguises. He is something of a snob, or considers himself superior – and he is not very considerate of others, including Dr Watson and his wife, Mary Morston. Jude Law has more to do in this one as Dr Watson and Kelly Reilly is not quite so-long suffering as she misses out on her honeymoon in Brighton as Dr Watson goes off to pursue Professor Moriarty with Holmes and save the world from World War I (or, rather, postpone it for twenty years). She gets involved in working for the authorities in London. Come to think of it, Holmes does a little channelling of James Bond, especially towards the end with an international peace conference in a castle on a high peak in the Swiss Alps that would have made Blofeld envious. There is a huge waterfall there as Holmes challenges Moriarty and Conan Doyle fans will know where the film and Holmes and Moriarty are heading.
Robert Downey, who showed twenty years earlier how he could do impeccable English when he portrayed Chaplin, is very Brit here, with wit, disguises, fighting and regrets for Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams who has a cameo here but featured in the original). There are several times when Guy Ritchie shows some flourishes as there are visual collages of Holmes’ mental and detection processes as well as the strategies of his fights with Moriarty, schematic outlines of what could happen and why.
Jared Harris (sounding more and more like his father, Richard, as he grows older) is Moriarty. His story and plots ares filled in extensively as are his dastardly plans to get France and Germany at war while he profits by munitions developments and sales. Stephen Fry appears more than before (and is seen more than before) as Mycroft Holmes.
The other member of the adventure is a gypsy whose brother has been taken in by Moriarty. ‘Have Dragon Tattoo, will have career.’ Noomi Rapace from the Millennium trio has been given an important role as the gypsy and gets plenty to do.
This is a bigger budget film than before and the sets are lavish, the action extended, and plenty of set pieces (and explosions) from London to Paris to Germany to Switzerland.
So, Holmes purists be alert. For everyone else, a visually stylish and busy, action-packed romp.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out January 5 2012.