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July 10, 2012
Shark Bite Theatre
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows: The Sequel Is Afoot
by Andrew E. Lindsay

I've always been a fan of Sherlock Holmes. Having read all the books and short stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, I was enamored with the character and happily consumed anything that had to do with the resident of 221B Baker Street. I remember watching old Basil Rathbone movies as a kid when I would stumble across one on some late-night classic movie program (this was long before Ted Turner invented an entire network designed to satisfy my constant need for classic films).

There were lots of other Holmes incarnations over the years, as well as plenty of parodies of the world's greatest detective, filling hours of television and movie productions, providing fodder for plays, and even finding their way into comic books. Some were good, others laughable, few were exceptional.

My favorite interpretation of Sherlock Holmes came from Jeremy Brett in the wonderful BBC adaptation, titled variously, "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes," "Sherlock Holmes," "The Return of Sherlock Holmes," "The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes," and "The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes." There were a lot of titles, but it was basically one big series. Of the 60 Holmes stories penned by Doyle, about 42 of them were adapted or borrowed from during the course of this series. This, to me, was the best illustration of the stories I had read, but it never stopped me from enjoying other offerings along the way.

In 2009, Robert Downey Jr. brought his considerable talents and skills to the role in the simply-titled Sherlock Holmes, pairing him with Jude Law's version of Dr. John Watson. The movie was fun, but bore only passing similarities to the character I knew. Still, I enjoyed the movie despite its re-imagining of an icon, and despite its need to include far more explosions in two hours than I ever remembered in all the previous literary and cinematic Sherlock Holmes offerings combined.

One of the things I really liked about director Guy Ritchie's interpretation was how he gave us a glimpse into the mind of Holmes, allowing us to see a bit of the inner workings of his razor-sharp sense of reasoning and deduction. This was accomplished by a slow-motion premonition, of sorts, where Holmes would play out a series of rapid-fire events in his mind before they would happen and simultaneously work out a solution. Time would then speed back up and the events would unfold, usually more or less how he calculated, but not always. It was a clever device, which I was only disappointed he did not use to greater effect by employing it more often.

In the follow-up film, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Ritchie happily steps up the use of this technique without overdoing it. Another improvement is centering the plot on a very plausible scheme concocted by Holmes' arch-nemesis, Professor James Moriarty (rather than some half-baked supernatural storyline involving an occult sorcerer serial killer who has somehow returned from the dead).

There are still a rather excessive number of explosions, but at least they seem to fit logically into the plot and are not just gratuitous nods to the need for big movies to make things blow up in a big way. It is, in fact, the explosions that set Sherlock Holmes on the trail of Professor Moriarty in the first place. Although set in the 1890's, the explosions call to mind the terrorist events of late, and all of Europe is thrown into panic due to the random and brutal nature of these attacks.

Early on, we realize that Dr. Watson is about to be married, and as such it would seem that his many adventures with Holmes are coming to an end. That assumption proves to be a bit premature, however, as Holmes and Watson head off to a stag party celebration for Dr. Watson. This is a stag party attended only by the pair and Holmes' older brother, Mycroft. Holmes failed to invite anyone else, or forgot, but the evening is not without considerable excitement nonetheless.

Holmes meets a gypsy fortune teller with a price on her head, and a great deal of energy and excitement ensue as he attempts to save her from a hired assassin hiding in her room. The resulting cat-and-mouse game causes an enormous amount of damage. In addition, Watson's party has degenerated into a drunken card game, and by the time it is over, Watson and Holmes must drive all night to arrive in time for the wedding. They arrive, barely, and are so bruised and beaten and dirty that they look like two refugees from a prison camp rather than the groom and best man. Nonetheless, Watson is married and heads off on a much-anticipated honeymoon with his new bride.

Meanwhile, Holmes (after a long bath and some fresh clothes) meets Moriarty face-to-face, and they exchange very guarded pleasantries whilst mentally sizing one another up before the inevitable battle of wits that is about to unfold. It seems that Professor Moriarty is involved in the dirty business of political assassinations, arms-dealing and war profiteering. And, despite Holmes' gentlemanly request that Moriarty leave John Watson and his new wife out of his Machiavellian machinations, the not-so-good professor informs Mr. Holmes that they are, for all intents and purposes, fair game.

This leads to Holmes interrupting the honeymoon, and he the doctor are soon traipsing about Europe, piecing together cryptic clues as only Sherlock Holmes can, hot on the trail of the evil genius, Moriarty. Brother Mycroft helps out a bit, although his role is played more for laughs than anything. In the books, Mycroft is actually the one human being who is smarter than Sherlock, although he rather wastes his time and talents lazing about the Diogenes Club, only occasionally coming to the aid of his famous brother.

One of my favorite moments comes late in the movie, when Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty are once again in the same room, and they begin to play a game of chess. Their deliberate and decisive moves are broken up only by their terse conversation, each word chosen as purposefully as each pawn.

The rapid-fire exchange continues to heat up as it speeds up, and one of them stands up from the table as he continues to talk. After making his point, he announces his next chess move. The other follows suit, rising and talking and verbally moving his piece. Their discussion continues to escalate as they move around the room, all while still announcing their next move despite the fact that neither has looked at the board in quite some time. It is a fascinating illustration of how these two diametrically opposed geniuses mentally gesticulate their positions and how equally yoked they are on a cerebral level (moral differences aside).

For fans of the literary Holmes, there is an obvious reference to The Final Problem and the incident at Reichenbach Falls. If you don't know what that means, don't worry about it; it won't matter in the least to your enjoyment of the film or your understanding of the story. The story is, in fact, well-written by Michele and Kieran Mulroney (with obvious help from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle).

This is a decidedly grownup movie with obvious allusions to modern-day issues, its nineteenth century setting notwithstanding. There is some comical quasi-nudity, so if the sight of an overweight, old man's buttocks makes you blush, well, that's probably a good time to go refill your popcorn. All in all, for fans of the famous consulting detective who may be wondering if this Holmes homage is worth watching, the answer is, well, elementary.

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