Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows (Guy Ritchie, 2011)
There’s a case to be made for nominating Sherlock Holmes as the first true superhero. His costume may not have been as silly or sexy but he made up for this with his awesome powers of perception.
He predates Marvel Comics by half a century and has more in common with Nietzsche’s Übermensch than the DC Comics’ Superman created in 1932.
Guy Ritchie’s second Holmes movie emphasises the adaptability and durability of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation.
For convenience it is set in Victorian times but the supercharged action sequences belong more to Sci-Fi movies like Source Code or Matrix.
It is so loud and hyperactive that it becomes an almost overwhelming assault on the senses. The stop-action, slow-motion. fast-forward, freeze frame fight sequences are mostly spectacular but you also get the notion that Ritchie is like a spoilt child in a gigantic toy shop – “fuck it, I want it ALL and I want it NOW! Subtlety is not his strong point.
Holmes’ reputation as the master of disguise takes a massive dent with a series of dodgy outfits that wouldn’t be out-of-place in a school play. This is a deliberately ironic detail to counteract his often annoying infallibility; he dices with death and mostly comes out with barely a scratch or comes back from the dead like Jesus.
Robert Downey Jr is an ego on legs and swaggers through the role with ease looking at times like a younger Iggy Pop. At least this time round he keeps his shirt on for longer. He’s like that guy in the movie Limitless who has an endless supply of a magic drug to unlock dormant brain cells. He scans the room wild-eyed noticing every tiny detail and piecing these together in a way no mere mortal can.
In Conan-Doyle’s original stories , Holmes was a cocaine addict; in the film version we never see him shooting up or snorting but the dude is clearly high on something other than adrenaline.
I actually preferred Jude Law as Dr Watson who is a distant cousin of the lovable but often slow-witted character in previous adaptations. He may not have Holmes intellect but he’s a whizz at survival skills and at ease with all types of weaponry.
Best of all, though, is Jared Harris as arch-enemy Professor James Moriarty. His chilling, understated performance anchors a movie that might otherwise have become little more than a special effects master class.
At the climax, the two rivals go the same way as the characters in Conan-Doyle’s The Final Problem. The author wanted to kill off his creation but the public were having none of it; a precedent the movie franchise will doubtless follow – this brand was born to run.