Robert Downey, Jr., is the king of charisma. After his star-making role as Iron Man in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, who would have thought he’d find such a similarly dynamic role as another literary hero, Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective? There’s no shortage of Sherlock Holmeses out there; all of them have their good points, from Basil Rathbone in the old black-and-white versions to Nicholas Rowe in Young Sherlock Holmes to Benedict Cumberbatch in the recent popular BBC series Sherlock. Yet while I very much enjoy Cumberbatch’s modern-day portrayal of the character, no one captures the intelligence and strangely appealing hubris of the 19th-century Holmes like Robert Downey, Jr. Thankfully, an equally engaging Watson was cast to round out the famous duo; Jude Law is not just a passive observer, but a much younger and more spirited companion than usual, able to match Holmes’s wit at least in their clever repartee.
Much of the credit should also go to director Guy Ritchie, who recreates Victorian England with a uniquely visual steampunk sensibility. Holmes’s famous powers of observation are also depicted with visual flair, usually in flashback, daring viewers to recognize all the details he does. Yet here Holmes is also a physical hero, able to employ his extensive knowledge to take out foes even before he engages them. Unlike the strictly cerebral quality of most traditional Holmes, Ritchie’s films are genuinely thrilling, with explosions, tense standoffs, life-and-death struggles, and a band-saw deathtrap worthy of a horror film, all of which is augmented by the droll humor of Downey and Law.
The first film is the better of the two, simply because of its unexpected enthusiasm, not unlike the awesome energy of J. J. Abrams’s Star Trek reboot that same year. Mark Strong is an effectively eerie challenger for Holmes, and though his satanic ritualism bothered me at first, I was glad that Holmes provided a practical explanation to Blackwood’s illusions. Rachel McAdams is also a strong point as Irene Adler, another ally who can match Holmes in certain situations.
As for A Game of Shadows, it was a worthy follow-up, with more resourceful deductions and a great battle aboard a train, though the film lacked something, perhaps more of Irene Adler. Jared Harris was ideally cast as the cunning and capable Professor Moriarty; but Noomi Rapace as Simza couldn’t quite fill McAdams’s shoes as the main female protagonist, and Stephen Fry was a bit overly odd as Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, with his nude disregard for domestic decency. Despite these weaker secondary characters and an overuse of slow-motion, A Game of Shadows possesses the same creative style, witty banter, and narrative ingenuity as the first, with a genius climax that pays homage to the source material and left me wishing for a third film, which may or may not happen.
The danger of mystery films is that, after unveiling the answers to all the burning questions, the story as a whole can fall apart or simply become less interesting on future viewing. Thus, the challenge for filmmakers is to make the plot as elaborate or convoluted as possible so that repeated watches are rewarded (Christopher Nolan and J. J. Abrams excel at this). Guy Ritchie also succeeds in that regard, with all the flashes of exposition creating a mystery well worth revisiting. Between Hans Zimmer’s outstanding tinny score, Downey’s astute magnetism, and the combination of mystery and action, Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes is definitely my favorite incarnation.
Best line from Sherlock Holmes: (Holmes) “You have the grand gift of silence, Watson; it makes you quite invaluable as a companion.” [followed by a punch from said companion]
Best line from Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows: (Watson, reading a note from Holmes) “’Come at once if convenient.’” [turns note over] “’If inconvenient, come all the same.’”Rank: 56 out of 60
© 2014 S. G. Liput
255 Followers and Counting