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Cinema Signal: Strong appeal for action fans but action rules over a faithful representation.

. "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows"

"Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" continues director Guy Richie's action hero version of the legendary mastermind after his highly successful first Sherlock film (to the tune of a half $Billion). Here, he trades cerebral detection by an acute mind for enough stunt work to make author Arthur Conan Doyle think he was on a gravity-free opium trip.

The suggestion that it's intellectual combat that drives the action comes from Holmes clash with his nemesis, Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button") and his plan to change the course of history through a demonically calculated series of murders, beginning with the Crown Prince of Austria.

The question of which man -- the detective or his master villain -- is the superior adversary is an ongoing feature of the Doyle canon and the unfriendly little game of chess between the geniuses, a Ritchie contrivance to enhance commercial prospects, again takes it beyond Doyle. But, I admit, using a chess game as a metaphor, in the circumstances, is almost unavoidable for a blockbuster conception (and well-enough played).

The action moves with the certainty that the villain will be one step ahead of his pursuers in a carrot and stick dramatic maneuver, whom he generally sneers at with his sociopathic sense of superiority, until the exigencies of story construction requires a change of course.

But comparing a modernized take on the investigative detective of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries may not be the best standard by which to evaluate Ritchie's two films. It's important only to a legion of Holmes' lovers. "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" should, perhaps, be compared to other action movies and concepts of 2011 and not as any sort of "upgrade to a modern representation." And, please, let us not use the prettifying term "homage" to glorify the most celebrated and imitated detective in literary and movie history.

Of that history, my favorite film interpretation to date is the Jeremy Brett series from 1984 to 1994 which presented the Baker Street PI as a quirky, fascinating man with an acute mind and brilliant detection methods. These were employed against the worst villains of period London and kept a lid on crime. Brett's assimilation of the character made the episodes extraordinary occasions -- nothing like what we're given here by the handsome, splashy Robert Downey, Jr. ("Iron Man") and partner Dr. Watson by able and more than willing Jude Law ("Contagion").

This occasion, on the other hand, is more getting in the ring with Holmes than a fascinating visit with the Baker Street Consulting Detective. Ritchie and his writing team ( Michele and Kieran Mulroney) are giving teen audiences what they want but just a flickering shadow of the original. One can hope that some small part of this audience will be inspired by this to go the source material. It will be highly rewarding, I promise you.

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    The Soundtrack (by Hans Zimmer)

  • There oughta' be a law against such blatant revisionism of a classic but, then, there's no arguing with what these artificially contrived thrillers pull in at the boxoffice. If Holmes was represented as the genius of logic and scholar of human impulse and behavior that he is, and the faithful, ofttimes awkward chronicler that the good Dr. Watson is (instead of the equal, competitive one presented by Law), the commercial prospects would be reduced like a bad day on Wall Street.

    Aside from that prospect, it is simply great to see Noomi Rapace as someone other than Lisbeth Salander ("The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," Swedish version) and ravishing Rachel McAdams ("The Time Traveler's Wife") anytime and anywhere.

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                                          ~~  Jules Brenner  

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