Robert Downey Jr. Personifies ‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows’

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Rating: 4.0/5.0

CHICAGO – The production team of “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” – designers, crew, writers, director and actors – should be proud of the level of respect they have given and embodied in delivering an updated Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, Professor Moriarty and the like. They take liberties, of course, but they also make sure that the truth of the characters are always intact.

The latest film in series is the second one, and its footing is much more sure than the first. This is a rousing adventure tale with high stakes, yet the story never overlooks the key to the Sherlock Holmes universe – the detective himself. It is still his powers of deduction, observation and deception that are utilized to solve the case, and this latest caper has symbolic components that reach from its setting in the year 1891 through the 20th and 21st centuries.

As the plot unfolds, there have been some mysterious and political bombings all around London. Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) is undercover to figure out the origin of the terrorism, and thwarts an attempted bombing on an auction house. That day also happens to be the eve of a wedding in which Holmes is standing up as best man. His loyal companion, Dr. John Watson (Jude Law), wants Holmes to give him a stag party, but the detective only succeeds in muddying up the matrimonial waters.

Game is Afoot: Jude Law as Dr. Watson and Robert Downey Jr. as the Title Detective in ‘Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows’
Jude Law as Dr. Watson and Robert Downey Jr. as the Title Detective in ‘Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows’
Photo credit: Daniel Smith for Warner Bros. Pictures

He needs John Watson on his latest case. His mortal enemy, Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris), is building a new industry in secret, one that could produce untold riches. Complicating matters is Watson’s betrothed, Mary (Kelly Reilly), who obviously wants the good doctor on the honeymoon, and Sherlock’s brother Mycroft (Stephen Fry), who seems like an ally except when he’s not. Together this rag-tag bunch of adventurers will travel from Britain to France to Switzerland to stop the evil Moriarty from gaining the upper hand.

The description itself is fun, and so is the movie. There are a couple things in director Guy Ritchie’s interpretation that really make the update work – his respect for the Sherlock Holmes persona and his nurturing of the comedy and adventure surrounding the characters. It is a buddy picture, after all, and the Holmes/Watson relationship is vital to the case solving, as much as the discovering of clues or the need for Holmes to stay three moves ahead of his enemies. Also Jared Harris makes the right choices in embracing the Moriarty character, which makes a nice clear division for that literary rivalry.

The casting of Mary Watson and Mycroft Holmes is also crucial to this story, and it is perfect. Kelly Reilly repeats her small role in the first film as Watson’s fiancee, and is rewarded with an expanded importance and interaction. The stroke of genius was casting British legend Stephen Fry as brother Mycroft. His dandy boredom and obvious rivalry with “Sherly” (as he calls his sibling) is amusing in every scene he and Downey Jr. share, and his heroics are as reluctant as they are necessary.

There is a nice parallel in the story as to the geopolitical maneuverings of our current situation in the realm of the late 19th century. This property aligns with the cliché that “everything old is new again” and that human beings who desire domination will manipulate, buy and sell anything to gain what they want to possess. The script and the production is witty and rich, with even some brilliant comic allusions to the fact that Holmes and Watson may have a deeper relationship, not that there is anything wrong with it.

Just Dandy: Stephen Fry as Brother Mycroft in ‘Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows’
Just Dandy: Stephen Fry as Brother Mycroft in ‘Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows’
Photo credit: Daniel Smith for Warner Bros. Pictures

If there are any problems with the updating, it might be that Holmes is reduced to silliness in his multiple disguises and youthful exuberance, but this is not the Holmes of the originator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but a younger and more impetuous sleuth. The history of the beloved detective remains intact, and Watson himself makes references to his soldiering days in Afghanistan (sound familiar?), and bringing in Mycroft doesn’t hurt the relationships or the legend at all.

This is perfect December fare, the time of year when most folks have some time to take in a matinee, smell the popcorn and order the gourmet pretzels. Sherlock Holmes has just the right pretzel logic to make the holidays a little brighter.

”Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows” opens everywhere on December 16th. Featuring Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Jared Harris, Kelly Reilly and Stephen Fry. Screenplay by Michele Mulroney and Kieren Mulroney. Directed by Guy Ritchie. Rated “PG-13” senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2011 Patrick McDonald,

Manny be down's picture

Sherlock Homes

What a gr8 disappointment I like the first one but this one was not to my taste

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