Popcorn Picks: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Jared Harris, Noomi Rapace and Stephen Fry

Director: Guy Ritchie

Genre: Action-Adventure/Comedy

Rated: PG-13

Choice Quote:  “Rest assured if you try to bring destruction upon me I will do the same to you.” – Professor James Moriarty to Sherlock Holmes

What’s it about?: The year is 1891 and the dastardly Professor James Moriarty endeavors to spark the outbreak of what would be the First World War. Under assumed names and by less than admirable means, he acquires a number of industries – “from bullets to bandages” as Holmes puts it – and “intends to create a demand” for them. With tensions rising between France and Germany, Moriarty plans to light the fuse.

Enter Sherlock Holmes, the only man able to go toe-to-toe with Moriarty’s intellect. With the trusty Dr. Watson by his side (begrudgingly, as Watson’s original plans included attending his honeymoon with his new bride) and a band of gypsies to offer help when needed, Holmes races across Europe in an effort to prevent the outbreak of the biggest war in the history of mankind (well, at least for another 23 years).

Is it any good?: This is not Sherlock Holmes. It bears the sleuth’s name and the climax pays homage to one of Doyle’s more popular stories, but the similarities end there. You could have called it Sherlock Hemlock and set it at 221B Sesame Street and it would still have had as much resemblance to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories as this film.

As long as you’ve accepted this fact, the film itself is a fast-paced, kind of witty (though slightly implausible, even for “Holmes”) action-adventure set in various locales across Europe. If you imagine Robert Downey Jr.’s character with a different name, his performance is fine and at times funny, though nowhere near his best. Jude Law’s comic timing is put to good use as the romantic/adventurous Watson, though his scarf seems intended to offer the extra colour that the character is missing. Speaking of missing, the severity of Watson’s limp tends to increase/decrease depending on how vital his speed/balance is to his survival at any given moment.

James Moriarty loses any air of mystery Doyle blessed him with in his books and instead is a watered down, relatively accessible, almost socialite of a psychotic genius. Jared Harris of Mad Men fame does what he can with the material, but it’s depressing to note that one of literature’s greatest villains may wind up a possible footnote in the Sherlock Holmes series.

The supporting characters, including Holmes’ brother Mycroft (Stephen Fry), the helpful gypsy Madam Simza Heron (Noomi Rapace), and even the reprisal of Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) from the first film fulfill their roles as intended, though none are game-changers.

As far as the look of the film, both the gritty and the grand of Victorian London are offered up in beautiful design and tone, as are the stunning Swiss landscapes. From scene to scene, Guy Ritchie’s trademark quick cut camera techniques are in full force here, to the point where it gets annoying (how many times do we have to see a projectile enter a weapon before being expelled in a blast of gunfire?).

Overall, it’s a reasonably fun film. Just don’t call it Sherlock Holmes.

Can I bring my kinds and grandkids to see it?: Absolutely. There’s no vulgarity, the violence in not terribly bloody and the film is nudity-free (save for Stephen Fry’s implied nudity, which is more funny than anything). The action is rampant and the dialogue/jokes won’t fly over most heads. At the screening Zoomer attended, younger viewers were leaving the theatre raving about how much they love Sherlock Holmes. That is “Sherlock Holmes,” wink-wink.

See it in theatres or rent it?: If you’re an unflinchingly loyal fan of the Sherlock Holmes literature, skip it altogether, as the film adds no new insight into the character or any of the stories. If you’re a casual fan of the literature, rent it. If you love action and so-so dialogue, may as well see it on the big screen.

Overall Popcorn Rating:  2.5 kernels (out of 5)

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows opens Friday, December 16th nationwide.

– Mike Crisolago