Sherlock Holmes is less sleuth and more a 19th century James Bond in director Guy Ritchie's "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows," but not too many people will complain after seeing this thrilling action flick.
Somehow, though, Ritchie manages to ramp up both the action and the wit in the sequel to 2009's "Sherlock Holmes" starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. "A Game of Shadows" is all the better for it.
Suspicious deaths, assassinations and terrorist bombings have 1891 Europe teetering on the edge of war. Most suspect French Anarchists are behind the attacks. Others say the Nationalists are behind all of it.
As he typically does, though, Sherlock Holmes (played again by Downey) has a different, more informed opinion. In a literal web of information and newspaper clippings, Holmes has traced everything back to Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris).
Dr. Watson (Jude Law) points out one minor flaw in Holmes' theory: He has no proof.
In "A Game of Shadows," Moriarty is Holmes' intellectual even, a smart, cunning and pure-evil bad guy who lacks anything resembling a conscience. After shrewdly positioning himself, Moriarty controls the goods of war -- everything from bandages to high-powered munitions -- and has the power to create the demand for them. That is, Moriarty is about to ignite a world war.
He's the perfect villain, the perfect nemesis for Sherlock Holmes. Moriarty works behind the scenes, pulls all the right strings and does it all without drawing suspicion from anyone but Holmes, who surmises that the only way to prevent war is to go directly at him.
After she is targeted by Moriarty's henchmen, Gypsy woman Madam Simza Heron (played by Noomi Rapace), whose anarchist brother has become involved with Moriarty's diabolical plans, is recruited by Holmes and Watson. Clues her brother has left behind, unintentionally, lead them to Paris and then to Germany in their attempt to stop Moriarty from igniting a world war.
Here's where that James Bond comparison comes in. While Holmes uses his intellect to connect the smallest details, he's also a badass.
He'll outsmart you, then he'll beat you to a pulp if need be. Five guys coming at him with knives? Holmes dispatches them without breaking a sweat.
If Downey's Sherlock Holmes is a bit, well, quirky, Law's Watson provides just the right counterpoint.
Dr. Watson is a bit more sensible, a bit more grounded. He's less of a risk taker but gets suckered into tagging along to take down Moriarty in lieu of his honeymoon plans. Downey and Law play off each other well, Law tempering Downey's penchant for over-the-top acting.
The cinematography in "A Game of Shadows" impresses. The look of the film is both modern and vintage at once, incorporating top-notch special effects -- the slow-motion actions scenes, for one, stand out -- with a rugged, late 1800s feel.
Though Ritchie could have used his signature slow-motion action sequences more judiciously, the technique was well executed in a scene where bullets and high-powered shells rip through a forest as Holmes, Watson and Heron run for their lives. It's visually stunning, unmatched in almost any other action movie there is.
The final confrontation between Holmes and Moriarty is a battle of both their supreme wits and brawn. A bit James Bond, a touch traditional Sherlock Holmes, it brings the film to a memorable conclusion with a clever, surprising twist.
"Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" straddles the line between action movie and intellectual thriller. Fans of both genres should make sure to catch this one.
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