Despite having read none of the original source material I have to admit to being quite partial to the two current reimaginings of Conan-Doyle’s Victorian super detective.
While I’ve previously discussed Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ modern retelling of Holmes with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, the other new version is that of Guy Ritchie, starring Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law.
I caught the first movie in Ritchie’s series at the cinema and very much enjoyed it, coming hot on the heels of Iron Man it seemed Downey Jr channeled the same kind of energy he gave Tony Stark to create his version of the detective, while Jude Law, an actor I normally don’t have much time for, was an appropriately charismatic Watson.
As well as some rollicking action sequences (albeit one featuring a major shift of London’s geography) what I remember really standing out about the film was the sense of fun and wit that ran through it along with the relationship between the two leads.
Going into A Game of Shadows I was concerned due to both the mixed reviews it had received, along with the rarity that is catching magic in a bottle twice in mainstream movies, and as the film got going things didn’t look too great.
While Downey Jr and Law seemed to still have great chemistry, with some even more pronounced homoerotic undertones adding to both the sense of Holmes and Watson’s relationship and the general sense of humor of the film, the overall feeling of fun wit I remember from the first one seemed to have been lost.
Thankfully once the scene had been set (with a slightly odd feeling introduction of Moriarty by means of killing off previous love interest Rachel McAdams) Steven Fry emerged from the shadows as Mycroft Holmes, and the sense of wit and adventure seemed to come along with him.
Once again the film’s main action sequences relied on the conceit of Holmes using his intellect to predict what was coming then developing into full on hand-to-hand action with a good balance of stylistic slo-mo and great looking fighting along with some well constructed scenes of lots of shooting and big explosions, which kept a fairly constant sense of story as well as looking spectacular.
Away from the well told story and great looking action the film also featured some of the most coherent style elements I’ve seen recently with the whole thing, from the design and music to the overall look of the filming all having something of a heightened, almost steampunk, version of Victorian London that brilliantly served to demonstrate the heightened reality of the rest of the film.
While the films ending was somewhat predictable (anyone who knows what the Reichenbach Falls are will see it coming) and has something of a typical Hollywood lack of courage, it doesn’t remove anything from the rest of film and in fact fits very well with the film’s overall hyper-reality where certain fantastic elements easily pass by unquestioned and, to be honest, in today’s sequel and remake obsessed culture, its nice to know that at least an enjoyable and fun franchise may still have some life in it.
The Blu-ray set of A Game of Shadows may have come in a nice looking tin (though I assume this is a store exclusive type of deal) it doesn’t offer much in the way of extra content.
All we get are a link to the movie’s own App (I’m yet to work out why I might want that) and a short series of featurettes detailing some of the aspects of the film, though all in somewhat perfunctory style.
The most interesting of these featurettes look at Steven Fry’s involvement and his take on Mycroft and a brief exploration of how the climactic chess game was constructed.
Beyond that unfortunately all we get is a lot of the actors saying how much fun it is working on a movie and how well they get on with each other, which, while nice to know these guys who are getting paid millions of dollars are having fun at work, didn’t really add anything to my appreciation of the films construction and I think it missed a trick in not exploring the production design more.