Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Directed by Guy Ritchie
Written by Michele Mulroney & Kieran Mulroney
Soundtrack Hans Zimmer
Robert Downey Jnr (Sherlock Holmes)
Jude Law (Dr Watson)
Jared Harris (Moriaty)
Noomi Rapace (Simza Heron)
Stephen Fry (Mycroft Holmes)
Ah. Downey & Law versus Cumberbatch and Freeman.
Hollywood blockbuster versus BBC TV series.
19th century setting versus contemporary.
Sherlock Holmes is all over us at the moment (and I’ve just published a new Sherlock Holmes ELT story myself!). So I saw the Baskervilles episode of the BBC series (with Benedict Cumberbatch) on Sunday, and the megamovie on the Monday.
I disliked the first Downey / Law movie (2009) quite a lot. There was too much flash, bang and wallop, and too little intrigue or interesting dialogue. Jude Law just doesn’t look Dr Watson to me, just as Robert Downey doesn’t look Holmes. They can’t all be Basil Rathbone, but Benedict Cumberbatch immediately and powerfully stamps his identity on fiction’s most famous detective. He looks like Holmes. A.A. Gill writing in The Sunday Times agreed, but pointed out that Martin Freeman, fine actor as ever and future Bilbo, doesn’t appear to be military, medical nor literary, the three essential attributes of Dr Watson. So there are two Dr Watsons who fail to convince me and one Holmes who fails too. I find the movie casting so perplexing that it’s perverse, because to me it’s Jude Law who would make a natural Sherlock Holmes. Cumberbatch is such a good Sherlock Holmes, that he’ll take years to wear off the type-casting, which will require the penance of a serious play for a long run in a small theatre, in time-honoured fashion. Both Downey and Law are too experienced as major Hollywood stars to let the fictional roles take over their well-honed personalities. They instinctively need to remain looking like “Robert Downey Jnr” and “Jude Law” more than the characters they’re playing. But as Sherlock Holmes versions, so far, the BBC TV series is streets ahead, and that’s before the titles even roll on A Game of Shadows.
The main titles don’t roll at all until you’re twelve minutes into the film, which annoys me. By then, Irene, the female lead of the first one, Rachel McAdams, is already dead. The quick flash of titles before the introductory twelve minutes shows the typescript on the desk is The Final Problem, the Sherlock Holmes story on which this is not exactly based, but has a connected ending at the Reichenbach Falls (here falling through the middle of an SFX castle). Unlike Conan Doyle, they don’t wait ten years to reveal Holmes has survived, having an eye on the future of the series.
Master of disguise: from the pre-title twelve minutes, with Irene
It’s better than the first one. Robert Downey Jnr overcomes the designer stubble look he sports throughout by being a master of disguise with a sense of humour. His British English is faultless. His drag scene on the train is hilarious. Still, he still never seems Sherlock Holmes to me. Law is an excellent action hero support, but not Watson.
It’s Sherlock Holmes as a James Bond movie transported to the 19th century. Lots of fighting, lots and lots of gunfire, lots of humorous bits. Someone seeking world domination. To bring it into current fears, an urban terrorist bombing campaign.
Downey and Law are an excellent double act who bounce well of each other. I can think of a dozen buddy comedy / action adventures they would have graced. But not as Sherlock and Watson. In contrast, Jared Harris looks and feels just right for Moriaty, and Stephen Fry for Mycroft Holmes.
Jared Harris as Moriaty
The set design and costume are richly observed. There any number of bloopers (the car is not an 1891 one, cars were not common until 1895, when they were allowed to travel without a man with red flag), but in this sort of concoction it’s a bit like complaining that James Bond couldn’t really have jumped over a ship in a speedboat. They do get a dense 1890s feel … the street the car rolls upon is covered with mud and horseshit for starters. The lovely Waverley paddle steamer takes them to France (in fact it’s a 1946 reproduction of a 19th century original). The scene with the French gypsies (I should say Romany, but it’s the 1890s) look great.
The Ambassadors Ball, Sherlock and Sim
Guy Ritchie’s mannered direction REALLY irritated me, just as it did last time. Holmes has a kind of precognition where he foresees fights and action scenes and plays them through in his head in slo-mo and freeze frame. Then we see them at normal speed. Once or twice might have been interesting, and it works to good effect when our heroes (Holmes, Watson and gypsy girl, Sim) are running through the forest with gunfire splintering the trees around them, but it’s so wildly overused that it’s tedious. Moriaty starts doing it too.
In the forest: Sim, Sherlock & Watson
I suspect there’ll be a third. It’s a noisy fun action-comedy adventure, but it’s a travesty to have borrowed Conan Doyle’s character names for it.