Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Hedgehog goulash, anyone?

I find it interesting that Noomi Rapace’s American film debut occurred within a week of the release of not only an American film featuring Michael Nyqvist, but a remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  It’s like an excellent-actors-out-of-type party.

Rapace’s Hollywood debut comes in the form of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, the second (and final?) in Guy Ritchie’s series, loosely based on the cozy detective stories of Arthur Conan Doyle.  Although the anachronistic fighting and quota of explosions are still present, Ritchie (director of such powerhouse films as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and RocknRolla) makes at least a small effort to use material from Doyle’s original stories (which should have been part of the plan all along).  The story once again follows Holmes and Watson (Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law, the latter of which would have made a better Holmes had they based him on the character from the books) as they attempt to take down their greatest adversary, Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris), whose motivations are far less murky and Bond-villain-ish in text form.  His plans involve the brother of Sim (Noomi Rapace), a fortune teller who tags along with Holmes and Watson and runs through the woods with them a few times.  Also in the cast are other characters taken from the original stories: Stephen Fry as Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock’s older brother; Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler; and Paul Anderson as Sebastian Moran, a villain from the books who was defeated but never killed off, and whom Ritchie wisely doesn’t kill off in the film (y’know, in case there’s another one).

If there is one thing Ritchie is consistent about, it’s style.  As he does in Snatch, he shows us bareknuckle fights percussed with beautiful folk music.  The steampunk overtones remain prominent, and the entire landscape seems to be washed green.  The banter between Downey and Law hasn’t quite staled yet, and there is enough to go around in the two hours twenty minutes that this film runs, but we also get something we didn’t get before: personal drama for Holmes.  When he loses someone important to him, the search for Moriarty goes from a gentlemen’s game to a quest for revenge, and when they finally confront each other atop a waterfall that will look all too familiar to anyone who has read Doyle’s “The Final Problem,” it truly feels like the final scene.

Funnily enough, the phrase “no loose ends” is repeated several times in the film, yet the film itself has quite a few (Moran being one of them).  I won’t spoil the background details of the story, but after you see it, try to explain to me what everyone’s motivations were and how everything got resolved.  In addition, Rapace is criminally underused, and Anderson overused considering how things turn out.  Fry, however, finds a happy medium, and aside from when he’s walking around nude, is a refreshing presence, and his character gets some truly funny moments.

Ritchie is well documented for his lack of ego, and it’s plain to see why actors like to work with him.  With the way this movie’s story turned out, however, there’s no need for a third one.  He’s said he plans on making the sequel to RocknRolla, so let’s see that happen.  After all, Doyle killed off Sherlock Holmes so he could focus on more serious literature, but he eventually gave in to his fans and wrote more stories after “The Final Problem” (whether or not we acknowledge the preposterous circumstances under which Holmes “survived” the incident).  Ritchie already jumps that particular shark in the end of this film, but it’s still enough.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011); written by Keiran Mulroney (based upon the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle); directed by Guy Ritchie; starring Robert Downey, Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace and Jared Harris.

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