Madam Simza to Sherlock Holmes: “What do you see?”
Holmes: “Everything, that is my curse.”
In Guy Ritchie’s second Sherlock Holmes adventure, Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law return to their bantering, boisterous best as Holmes and Watson. In their first film together, Sherlock Holmes, they came up against the apparent dark magic of Lord Blackwood, played by Mark Strong. However, this time everything is on a much larger scale as they are up against the mighty intellect of the eccentric detective’s nemesis, James Moriarty, played by Mad Men‘s Jared Harris. They are briefly rejoined by Rachel McAdams, however there is a new addition in the form of Swedish actress Noomi Rapace, known for her role in the 2009 Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
First of all, Robert Downey Jr. is awesome yet again, giving us a Holmes that is just as brilliant and perceptive as he always has been, but with that action twist that we saw in his first outing as the detective. It is refreshing to see such a well-loved character updated to appeal to a modern audience. Downey Jr. plays the eccentric sleuth with the perfect mixture of brilliance and manic tendencies that made Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character famous in the first place. However, he also adds in his own elements to create a character who can be appreciated in the context of these two films alone.
The homoerotic undercurrents of Holmes’ relationship with Dr. Watson are highlighted here even more than they were in the first one. There are a few scenes involving Holmes, the master of disguise, dressed as a woman that bring the comedy to its peak with lines like “lie with me Watson”. Their chemistry is hilariously funny and although it may be slightly too overt for a typical Holmes film, when you’ve got a Holmes who’s a martial-arts expert, this was never going to have the classic feel of the oldies. Jude Law plays Watson again, a role he manages to pull off well through the clever use of a magnificent moustache and a fantastic array of hats.
Although Rachel McAdams has a small part, the female lead is suitably filled by Noomi Rapace. She plays the mysterious, fortune-telling gypsy Madam Simza Heron, who joins forces with Holmes and Watson when it is revealed that not is all as it seems where her brother is concerned. She gives a bad-ass performance as a woman who can handle herself and she makes a great companion for the two men.
Their ultimate goal is to bring down Professor Moriarty, who has an ominous plan that must be stopped. Jared Harris gives a convincingly evil performance as Moriarty, the only person in the world with a hope of equalling the brilliance of Holmes’ mind, or his borderline insanity. The two men have immensely tense scenes together, culminating in a spectacular finale at a waterfall, which readers of the books will remember.
Oh yes, and Stephen Fry plays Holmes’ brother Mycroft. Fry’s character provides a place of refuge for Watson’s new wife, played by Kelly Reilly, while her husband is off gallivanting and fighting bad-guys. However, his character contributes little to the main plot and tends to feel a little superfluous. He does provide us with a good few laughs though and if you can add that into a film, then why not?
Guy Ritchie has directed this film in his typical gritty-but-slick way, and his trademark slow-motion action sequences are spectacular. Compared with his first Holmes film, there is much more of this technique and it can slow down the action just a bit too much. However, no-one can deny that it an interesting new perspective on the action – very rarely do you get to watch a bullet shoot through a tree, splintering it into pieces before your eyes.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is shot on a much larger scale than Sherlock Holmes. Everything from the comedy to the slo-mo is enhanced and it is no longer set in London. This is a Holmes film of larger ambitions – the detectives travel further afield to France, Germany and Switzerland – most of which it fulfils.