As I sat enjoying Sherlock Holmes A Game of Shadows, I ruminated once again about how much the British have contributed to Pop Culture (with a capital P.C.). There’s Holmes, of course (the most portrayed detective in history), but also James Bond, Doctor Who, and even Harry Potter, all of which this sequel — directed by Guy Ritchie and starring the incongruous Robert Downey Jr., complete with erratic uncategorizeable accent –- evokes at times during its 126 minutes.
But unlike Hugo, which was also 126 minutes long, SH:aGoS isn’t full of portentous pregnant pauses nor strains for importance. No, this one moves along at a constant clip, and features the filmic affectations Ritchie has become known for. Still, it’s a beautifully composed, constructed, and costly production that plays like the most opulent Victorian 007 thriller ever conceived, only with an American pretender on the throne.
Despite his obvious unsuitability, especially opposite Jude Law’s fine, capable Watson (who has no problem sounding British), Downey’s real-life reputation only adds to his portrayal, and, apparently, the producers’ intentions to create a modern-slash-period international mystery thriller in the Thunderball mold.
The movie scurried from pleasure to pleasure for me: well-tuned martial art sequences (designed and executed by Richard Ryan, who I met at Action Fest earlier this year), Jared Harris (son of Richard, and Mad Men co-star) as a most erudite, educated, sadistic, and, ultimately formidable Moriarty, and Stephen Fry fulfilling a most wonderful Mycroft.
But mostly I savored how Ritchie and the screenwriters’ (Michele and Kieran Mulroney) both honored the source material and refused to dumb down complex dialog as well as the “come-on-people-keep-up” visual logic. I especially appreciated a scene where Ritchie shows the audience how Holmes knew there was a secret passage without having him explain it.
By the time the infamous Reichenbach Falls appears, familiar to any Holmes fan, a shiver of recognition and anticipation went through me. By then the movie well and truly had me by the lapels, and I reveled in all the smart, brave choices – from Hans Zimmer’s score which incorporated both Irish pipes as well as Mozart, through the lavish production values as well as the eye-filling visuals, to the cerebral as well as physical climax, which earned its emotional weight.
I’m also happy, but also somewhat spoiler-alertingly reluctant, to report that this sequel continues the original’s sweet throwaway clue-collecting techniques … only this time Holmes draws even less attention to it until it satisfyingly pays off throughout the finale. Smart, amusing, lavish, this was a bloody good way to kick off the Xmas movie season. Elementary? Hardly. Fun, grand, entertainment? Come along, folks, the game is afoot.