Baker Street’s brainy badass
It’s Sherlock Holmes on maxiumum overdrive in this enjoyable sequel, writes Donald Clarke
YOU WAIT A century for a satisfyingly radical reinvention of Sherlock Holmes, then two come along in the space of six months.
Guy Ritchie’s career-salvaging Sherlock Holmes, a hit in late 2009, and the BBC’S Sherlock, gorgeously written by Steven Moffat and Mark Gattiss, took the consulting detective in two very different directions. The film offered a mix of steampunk hysteria and Sax Rohmer-inspired exploitation. The popular TV series, despite being fired by contemporary technology, is as cerebral as any previous version of the stories.
This second film in the franchise puts even greater distance between itself and the BBC’S excellent effort. Part one certainly provided enough coal-fired violence and breathless pursuit. A Game of Shadows is, however, so insanely pumped up the viewer may, after puffing through its breezy 128 minutes, demand a nice lie down on a chintz-covered daybed. Some buttered muffins please, Mrs Hudson.
Indeed, the lengthy middle sequence plays very like a recent sequence of videogames. Get hold of the sniper rifle and take out the guards. Now crouch down and cross the bullet-riddled courtyard. Oh, no. The opposition have control of a large-calibre field gun. You were hoping for Call of Duty: Sherlock Warfare? Raise a glass. That’s what you’ve got.
Still, fans of Edwardian and Victorian popular literature will find plenty to savour here. Set in the last years of the 19th century, the story (somewhat prematurely) nods towards those breakneck espionage novels – The Riddle of the Sands, The Thirty-nine Steps – that exploited growing paranoia in the run-up to the first World War.
A crown prince has just died in mysterious circumstances. The authorities believe the death to be suicide, but Holmes suspects that the unfortunate chap is the first victim in a vast Europe-wide conspiracy. (Followers of the idiotic 9/11 “Truth Movement” will nod sagely at the eventual solution.) Unfortunately, our hero, played again with swallowed vowels by Robert Downey Jr, is about to lose the services of his loyal collaborator. Dr Watson (Jude Law) is looking forward to his impending marriage and an intrigue-free honeymoon in lovely Brighton.
Those plans begin to unravel on the stag night. Holmes encounters a gypsy mystic (Noomi Rapace), who has become unwittingly involved with the conspiracy, and those investigations bring chaos and violence to Watson’s big evening out. His poor wife is subsequently flung from a train. The doctor then finds himself dodging anarchists (or are they?) in various corners of middle Europe.
In truth, you may as well attempt to summarise the habits of the Higgs boson as sketch the details of this film’s hectic, careering plot. A hundred superficially intriguing puzzles are thrown up and, before the viewer has time to ponder a solution, swept aside to permit yet another outbreak of extravagantly shot, Cgi-driven violence.
Much of the Conan Doyle’s trademark characteristics remain: the hero’s selfish eccentricity, the edgy bromance between doctor and sleuth, the taste for contemporaneous lowlife. But the haphazard structure would appal and befuddle Sherlock’s tweedy creator.
Nonetheless, the sequel gets by on busy pace, sly humour and, more than anything else, nearflawless casting. Downey, Jr, though unsure in his accent, remains agreeably deranged. Law does a good line in outrage. Jared Harris, less weighty and less shiny than previous occupiers of the post, is very impressive as Holmes’s arch-enemy Moriarty.
And what of Mycroft? Well, Holmes’s brother is usually seen as a slightly superior know-it-all with unstoppable access to the upper reaches of British society. He’s played here by Stephen Fry. What more could you ask for?
The gypsy and the private eye: Noomi Rapace and Robert Downey Jr