Saturday, December 17, 2011

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Three's a Crowd

The world's greatest detective created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle returns to the big screen once again after the successful boot up through director Guy Ritchie's vision back in 2009. Ritchie returns to the director's chair, along with main leads Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law as Holmes and Watson respectively, going in to what would be the duo's toughest challenge yet with arch rival Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) whose intelligence rivals that of Holmes and is the equivalent of the greatest criminal mind out there, adopting loosely from Doyle's short The Final Problem, and following on from the seeds that were cunningly placed in the earlier film.

We return to Victorian England which sets the stage for Holmes to continue where he last left off, tailing ex-lover and thief Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams in a bit role only, which I suspect is for continuity purposes) who unwittingly becomes a part of an assassination attempt. With Holmes spoiling Moriarty's plot, we soon get to see the vilain himself in the flesh, given that he only existed in shadows in the earlier film, and learn of his dastardly plans to catalyze a European theatre of war at least from which he would make money from shrewd investments carefully positioned in commodities and supplies. Yes if you did not already know, war is actually profitable business.

But it's not that clear from the start, and one of the quibbles I have from this installment is how we constantly get led by the nose from one episode to another, journeying with both Holmes and Watson, the latter having his wedding and honeymoon to Mary (Kelly Reilly) rudely interrupted, outside of 221B Baker Street, London and England in general, to go on a whirlwind European tour of a few countries as they chase the villain and his many henchmen to throw a spanner in their works. With mystery films there are clues and red herrings left behind in which the detective will break or revisit them in due course, but many times in this film the cheat mode got set, leaving room for plenty of convenience to happen and for the narrative to skew events to whichever direction it so desires.

While Professor Moriarty may be the strongest villain in Holmes' Rogues Gallery, the character here proves to be anything but. He's ambitious in his plans and shows no mercy in its execution, but he's somehow lacking that inherent menace that villains possess. His demeanour played by Jared Harris may throw anyone off guard that this academician has a brilliant criminal mind, and holds his own in fisticuffs against Holmes since they share similar strengths in analytics. It's not that Harris didn't play the role to expectations but I felt he got hampered by the limited screen time and to have plenty of his actual dirty work committed by others, makes him a brainy villain instead, that didn't get translated too well for the big screen.

So thank goodness that the Downey Jr and Law pairing still contain as much chemistry and fun as seen from the first film, and this camaraderie worked up advantages for the buddy relationship between Holmes and Watson that carried the film through as they go country hopping and crime busting. Again filled with plenty of innuendos and double entendre in their dialogues, the bromance here continues to be solidly strong, that a new ally in gypsy Madam Simza Heron (Noomi Rapace) stood out like a sore thumb, unable to blend in with the duo naturally, and in some ways made her feel like an unwelcome female entrant into an all boys club.

As with almost all Guy Ritchie films, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is technically strong, with the look and feel of the film, consistent from that of the first, being one of the winning elements in my books. Incredibly detailed and intricately crafted, the sets, costumes, CG and production values are all top notch in transporting us back to an era that once was. The multiple flashback scenes that showcase how we get to where we are at the point of the narrative, and those events that play out in Holmes' mind, were all done with precision as we cue in to his thought process, and one of the plus points is that of Moriarty's input at times when it got boiled down to an intense battle of minds. And not forgetting Hans Zimmer's powerful score that's a natural companion piece from the first film.

I don't recall any other December period with that many blockbusters making their bow in Singapore, and this installment of Sherlock Holmes proves to be up there amongst the greats, but in some way lacked a certain X-factor to be truly memorable. Hinting at another film adventure, I hope the next one if it does get made, has what it takes to make the trilogy a definitive modern interpretation.

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