THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS"
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows - Own it on Blu-ray™ Combo Pack or Digital Download 6.12.12
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows makes the mistake that many sequels make: it tries to give us more of everything we loved about the original, apparently not realizing that if we loved those things the first time, it was probably because they were in perfect proportion. Director Guy Ritchie amps up the mayhem and the stylistic devices used to signify that the world's most famous detective is deducing things, yet because the plot is crummy, the cumulative effect feels like overkill.
Robert Downey, Jr. returns as Holmes, and Jude Law is also back as Dr. Watson. As the movie opens, Holmes is investigating the renowned Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris), who he believes is tied to a number of suspicious political deaths. They key to uncovering what Moriarty is really up to is the missing-in-action brother of a gypsy named Simza (played by Noomi Rapace, star of the original Swedish Girl With the Dragon Tattoo). Moriarty is, of course, every bit as cunning as Holmes himself, and he repeatedly tosses up roadblocks to prevent the sleuth from making progress on the case.
The first Sherlock Holmes was a fun interpretation of the beloved character. He was presented as an action hero as well as a genius. The same is true here, although Holmes' periodic fisticuffs are hampered by the fact that his rivalry with Moriarty is not always presented with much clarity. This is one of those movies where things happen but aren't explained until five minutes later. The approach creates a scenario where you're constantly asking yourself, “What is going on here?” and by the time it's explained, the story has already moved onto something else you'll need to question. Characters appear without introduction, so you sometimes don't realize how important they are until it's too late to care. Such narrative sloppiness can erode an audience's interest. It certainly eroded mine. A movie about Holmes and Moriarty should be zingy and fast-paced and fun. It should offer two brilliant minds playing a riveting game of cat-and-mouse. Instead, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is muddled and bloated, with a plot that requires a Holmes-ian sense of deduction to follow.
Much of the blame has to go to the lousy screenplay by Kieran and Michelle Mulroney, which is a masterpiece of incomprehensibility. I wonder what the actors thought when they read it. Did it make sense to them, or did anyone realize how shoddy its construction was? As a further example of the laziness of the plot, consider that when Moriarty's big plan is finally revealed, it's essentially the same plan that dozens of other movie villains have used over the years. There's even the cliched use of a chess game as a metaphor for personal rivalries. We've already seen this creaky gimmick once this year (in Tower Heist), and it's repeated faithfully here, right down to the moment when the victor, having won, declares, “Checkmate!”
Without a solid screenplay from which to work, Guy Ritchie's visual tricks ring hollow. You may recall that, in the first installment, Holmes visualized things in slow motion before committing to action. That process is repeated ad nauseum in the sequel, as is the speed-up/slow-down momentum of the action sequences. I thought this style worked in the original, as it provided a visual interpretation of Holmes' mental process. Now, it just comes off as an attempt to prop up a flat story.
On a technical level, the movie is fine. The production design is magnificent. The performances are uniformly sprightly. The photography and music are wonderful. In the end, though, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is a lot like The Hangover Part II, Scream 4 or Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen: it looks and feels like the movie you initially fell in love with, yet it offers little of the pleasure or magic that won you over in the first place.
( out of four)
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is available on Blu-Ray combo pack or digital download on June 12. There is also a free Sherlock Holmes movie app for iPad 2 and Kindle Fire. The app synchs with the Blu-Ray disc and provides enhanced content and interactive features. Noted Holmes expert Leslie Klinger consulted on the movie app contents. It can be downloaded at the iTunes store now.
As for the features found on the disc itself, the most exciting one is Maximum Movie Mode, hosted by Robert Downey, Jr. This picture-in-picture feature allows you to access a wealth of behind-the-scenes and making-of material, all coordinated with the film itself. Maximum Movie Mode has become a staple of Warner Home Video releases, and is a great way to digest a lot of detailed production information.
Next up are a series of Focus Points, which run, on average, about four minutes in length. Each of them details a specific element of the film:
“Holmesavision on Steroids” looks at how director Guy Ritchie achieved the slow-motion fighting sequences and strove to make them even better than in the original movie.
“Moriarty's Master Plan Unleashed” explores the film's villain. The casting of Jared Harris is discussed, as is the chess metaphor that runs throughout the story. (Amusing anecdote: the chess expert hired to create a game for Holmes and Moriarty admits to having “a database of queen sacrifices.”)
“Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson: A Perfect Chemistry” is about the working relationship between Downey and Law, who clearly have a blast re-teaming. On similar casting notes, “Meet Wycroft Holmes” centers on Sherlock's sibling as played by the inimitable Stephen Fry, and “Sherlock Holmes: Under the Gypsy Spell” is about Noomi Rapace's approach to her character.
“Guy Ritchie's Well-Oiled Machine” is a fairly standard celebration of the director by his cast and crew. Finally, “Holmes Without Borders” shows how the production design and special effects departments recreated other European cities in a period setting. Since Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows was shot entirely in London, a lot of “movie magic” had to be used.
All of the Focus Points are nicely produced and fairly interesting. The Blu-Ray also contains an UltraViolet copy of the movie.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and some drug material. The running time is 2 hours and 8 minutes.
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