When I watched “Sherlock Holmes”(2009) almost two years ago, I wondered whether it was good to inject the seven percent solution of caffeine/adrenaline to one of the most famous detectives in the English literature. I enjoyed its style, moods, and wits provided by its two lead actors, but I did not recommend the film with my 2.5 star rating due to my little dissatisfaction and following reservation gnawing on me: is it acceptable to make Sherlock Holmes into a comic book action hero who can use not only his brain but also his muscle?
Fortunately, the director Guy Ritchie, who directed previous Sherlock Holmes movie, proves that was not a bad thing after all in this smooth sequel. Maybe it is still a little distracting to watch Holmes to use his body besides his brilliant mind to solve his case, but this sequel shows several improvements while retaining what made the previous test run enjoyable to watch. It is grittier and more bombastic(thanks to Hans Zimmer’s aggressively egoistic score), but, the game is afoot, and it is fun to watch Holmes’ another adventure.
When we meet again our faithful chronicler Dr. John Watson(Jude Law), he is just beginning to type his latest story to tell. Europe is continuously disrupted by the serial bombings and other disturbing incidents across the continent, and they are assumed to be perpetrated by a group of anarchists, but Sherlock Holmes(Robert Downey Jr.) has the other idea about what is going on. Shut himself in his residence in a rather hilarious way, he concentrates on literally linking the dots on the wall, and he knows who is behind all these happenings around the world.
He is the Professor James Moriarty, played by seemingly suave and courteous Jared Harris. On the surface, he is a well-respected professor in Cambridge well connected with several influential politicians including the Prime Minster(his recent famous book: “The Dynamics of an Asteroid”), but he is also a manipulative criminal mastermind with an insidious plan for the future. He is not so pleased when Holmes starts meddling with his private business; Holmes recently succeeds in intercepting a certain letter to be delivered by Irene Adler(Rachel McAdams), who was once romantically involved with him, and Moriarty, her current employer, is naturally very, very disappointed about his employee’s failure.
The letter is addressed to a gypsy lady named Madam Simza Heron(Noomy Rapace, who was quite electrifying in the Swedish version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”(2009)) who works as a fortune teller in one brothel in London. Because Watson is going to get married, he is unwittingly dragged by Holmes to that place for “a stag party”, and, though he managed to get married to his fiancée Mary(Kellly Reily) on the next day, we know that our dear doctor’s honeymoon is soon postponed due to a personal reason and poor Mrs. Watson will be waiting for his husband to return – at least we know she will be relieved in the end.
The director Guy Ritchie uses the same bag of tricks we have observed from his previous films, but he is more assured than in his previous Holmes film. Again, he uses that alternating slow and fast motions with choppy rhythms to depict the action sequences, and they are as exciting as before while giving interestingly gritty working class sensibility to the exemplary production designs and costumes for the 19th century background. The situation is more dangerous than before for the characters; not only they race against the time to thwart Moriarty’ evil scheme to ignite the war between conflicting European countries, but also they have to run for their life amid the shells relentlessly falling from the sky. Besides that gloomy London of the late 19th century we all are familiar with, there are various sceneries to be appreciated while Holmes and others move around Europe, including the castle placed on the top of the waterfall among those steep mountains in Switzerland.
In any action movies, the success mostly depends on how menacing the villain is, and Jared Harris does a good job as the evil genius ahead of his time. As an equal match for Holmes, Moriarty is a cool, calm, and calculating villain who rarely loses his posture even when it is evident that the battle of wits is almost over. It is fascinating to see how their minds work in a pretty much same way in one scene where Holmes and Moriarty try to outsmart each other on the chess board while their respective strategies are working from the distance.
As the title character, Robert Downey Jr. is having a fun while playing a guy who is definitely not your ideal roommates especially if you have a dog. While he is believable as a tough guy who can quickly knock down a bunch of menacing thugs in a short time thanks to his fast thinking, Downey seldom loses his sardonic wits as an intelligent crime solver amid the rapid actions. Opposite to Downey, Jude Law is enjoyable as a straight man who endures his friend a lot even after he leaves the Baker street. Watson wants a normal life with marriage, but, alas, he is always somehow hurled into his disagreeable friend’s adventures, regardless of whether he wants it or not.
The newly added supporting characters are also fun to watch, too, and maybe they will come back in the next film. As an equally eccentric older brother of Holmes, Stephen Fry has his own moment when he walks around being completely naked. Considering her talent, Noomy Rapace does not have many things to do besides moving along with Downey and Law, but she is completely different from Lisbeth Salander in this film, and she shows us that she can hold her place while delivering English dialogues well – I think she can move on for better opportunities on the horizon.
Overall, “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadow” is a more engaging movie than the previous film because of several improved aspects. The story is still shaky in many spots, but the characters and the styles are entertaining enough to float the story. While expressing my reservation, I concluded my Korean review of “Sherlock Holmes” with saying that they would make a good sequel if they did the things right in the next time. I am glad that they did.