Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is the mastermind behind the original “Sherlock Holmes” novels, a series of gripping mysteries led by one of the most famous characters in literary history. The books are witty, suspenseful, well-plotted, and the character of Holmes, as well as his sidekick Dr. John Watson, are two of the smartest and slickest protagonists to ever hit the page. Their ability to transform the most miniscule detail into the one that cracks the case was so invigorating that readers couldn’t help but just keep going.
Many film adaptations of Sherlock Holmes have been created, some successful, others not so much, but in 2009, director Guy Ritchie released his version of the detective we all know and love. Sherlock Holmes was the beginning of a new Holmes, an action star Holmes. Somewhere between Sweeney Todd and James Bond, Ritchie’s interpretation of the character was charming, smart, witty, and quite the fighter, but the film itself wasn’t involved enough in its characters, or its quality for that matter, choosing style over substance as often as it could.
Still, fans got their butts in the seats, and Holmes walked away with a good amount of money in its sack. Now, in 2011, a sequel has been created, entitled, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. The plot, unlike that of the first film, is focused more on political power and international relations, whereas its predecessor focused more on black magic and sorcery.
All of the original cast from the first film is back. Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.), Watson (Jude Law), his wife, Mary (Kelly Reilly), as well as a cameo appearance by Irene (Rachel McAdams), who is the first and only “Holmes girl”. There are some new faces too, including Noomi Rapace, who you might recognize from the Swedish version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Incidentally, the American version of the film is being released next Wednesday. Rapace plays Madam Simza Heron, a gypsy fortune-teller who is Holmes’ physical equivalent, able to fight off as many men as he.
When Professor James Moriarty who is known in the literary world as the first “supervillain” kills Irene, Holmes and Watson must set out to defeat his plans to begin a world war and possibly end western civilization. Recruiting Madam Heron has their “tour guide”, they try to crack what may be the biggest case of their careers.
This latest installment in the Sherlock Holmes series is interesting. Interesting in the sense that its unbearable first half is complemented by its much-improved 3rd act, including a quite breathtaking chase scene through the woods of France. I don’t know what it is about the new Holmes films, but I just don’t like them. I wasn’t a fan of the original, and I’m really not a fan of this one, and for the longest time I couldn’t figure out why. The action is there, the wit is there, and the amazing direction by Guy Ritchie is there.
So why? Why is it that I just can’t seem to be too interested in this series? Well, for one, the writing isn’t exactly what one would call “good”. The banter in the first film between Holmes and Watson was amusing, and now it’s just annoying, as is almost everything else. Downey’s portrayal of Holmes has become a caricature of what it once was. Whereas in the first film, he was slick and charming, he know comes off as artificial and scripted. Same for Watson, whose sole purpose in this film is to tag along while Holmes does his thing, which is an unacceptable change in character.
The presence of Noomi Rapace is a necessary replacement to Irene, a missing link in this new chapter. Her cameo left me wanting more, which in a way gets the job done, but it angered me that she was only in one scene, and her scene ends with her death. She deserves more, and if there is a third film (which there will be), I hope that they sprinkle some movie magic on her grave and bring her back to life.
A Game of Shadows also suffers from an acute case of predictability. Reviving all of the old tricks from the first film, and strangely enough all the old plot points, A Game of Shadows succeeds in giving us nothing new at all to look at or even think about, which is a shame considering all of the doors that should have been opened here.
Overall, the new film in the Sherlock Holmes franchise is nothing new, and to be honest, it barely scrapes the surface of entertaining, giving viewers decent enough fight scenes, way too much slow motion, and underdeveloped characters that really end up serving no purpose. Guy Ritchie was born to make British gangster movies, and in a way he’s put his own gritty spin on the character of Sherlock Holmes, but in the end, he still succumbs to giving us nothing fresh. Please Guy Ritchie, please follow up on that RockNRolla sequel we were promised.