But there was also the fourth M. Often a staple of sequels, this M stood for More. More fighting. More jokes. Because of all this extra More, room was made for a little Less as well. Eddie Marsan’s enjoyable Lestrade has been relegated to little more than a cameo and all round good egg Clarkie the Copper appears only in one scene, in which he is given nothing to say, but does a good job of looking a little sad. The one scene in question is Holmes’ funeral. Holmes dies. Or so we are led to believe. The fact that this story is loosely based upon The Final Problem should make this no surprise to anyone who knows the Detective’s history. The Reichenbach Falls make an appearance, though here they are enhanced to Lord of the Rings proportions, making the actual Falls seem as intimidating as a small gentle stream, surrounded by buttercups. On a Sunday.
The story begins with Europe in Crisis, bombs have been going off all over the place, sending top hats spinning skyward, shortly followed by limbs, pocket watches and moustaches of every shape and size. Holmes has decided, we are not told why, that this is the work of the Napoleon of Crime, Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris). And, of course, he’s right. For the next two hours we bounce around Europe as Holmes, Watson and newly acquired friend Simza (Noomi Rapace) dodge bullets, dance, bicker and flirt their way to a building atop the Reichenbach Falls, which will be home to a peace conference. Peace conferences often seem to lead to war, and that’s very much what Moriarty is hoping for, because he’s been busy taking over seemingly every company in Europe so that when war does break out, he will make a mountain of money.
As plots go, it’s a bit ho and a bit hum, but it does a workmanlike job well and seems quite pleased with itself for doing so.
Mycroft – Casting Stephen Fry as Mycroft Holmes must have seemed as inevitable as Danny DeVito landing the role of the Penguin. Fry not only resembles the character he also seems to be a bottomless reservoir of knowledge, oddness and Englishness. It’s a shame then that Mycroft is handled quite so badly in this film. When we first meet him he spars with Sherlock in a Deduction-Off that has no value, since we are not given any indication of how either of these two great observers came to their conclusions. All we have is a smug and shallow game of one-upmanship. We also have a very mobile Mycroft. He goes out for Watson’s stag night. Appears out of the fog in a boat to effect a rescue and then emerges in Switzerland, seriously in want of Oxygen. In another scene, Mycroft is in serious want of something else. Before we delve into the ‘something else’ I want to stress that I am in no way precious about how Sherlock, Watson or Mycroft are depicted. I do not think there is such a thing as a correct Sherlock, Watson or Mycroft, any more than an incorrect one. You may give any of these characters any eccentricity you so desire, and so long as some acknowledgment of this is given, some qualifying statement, I don’t mind. I really don’t. But I do mind naked Mycroft.
For the purposes of ‘light relief’ we are presented with a scene in which Mycroft Holmes wanders around his house naked, in front of servants, associates and Dr Watson’s wife. Does Mycroft have a ‘nude day’ like the Dentons of Royston Vasey, or like Churchill, does he simply have nothing to hide? If we had been given just one line, perhaps from S. Holmes, that suggested his brother’s eccentricity while at home, this scene would have been more acceptable. With nothing of the sort given, it stands out (no pun intended) as an uncomfortable oddity, demeaning to the character and adding nothing to the overall experience.
Moriarty – Where the film fails so badly with Mycroft, it positively triumphs with Moriarty. Jared Harris is superb as the master criminal. He remains calm throughout, with only the slight arching of a lip or the merest movement of the eye suggesting that a mania lies behind the cool exterior. This is a supremely confident Moriarty, cold and compassionless. And, at last, we get to see the Professor professing, and the few moments when we see Moriarty as teacher are very enjoyable, and quietly fascinating.
The Doctor - Despite Harris’ fine performance, it is Jude Law’s Watson that stands out most for me. He is more Holmes’ equal than any Watson I have seen before. Here we see him as a man of action, integrity and as ever, a crack-shot. And unlike the first film, we also see him at his writing table, composing The Final Problem and delivering Watson’s final summing up of his friend as well, or perhaps better, than any I have seen before. Here, Watson is more necessary than he has been in the past, because he is partnered to a Holmes that seems to be always no more than a hair’s breadth from outright madness.
The Detective - I have read comparisons between Robert Downey, Jr’s performance as Sherlock Holmes and as Tony Stark, some have suggested that they cannot tell the difference. I only wish that were so. As Tony Stark, the alter ego of the Marvel Character Iron Man, we have but a sniff of the Downey, Jr insanity. As Sherlock Holmes, we are dunked into it like a Sheep being deposited into a large vat of Dip. His Holmes is crazed, madder than Tom Baker and dirtier than Gandalf the Grey. He thinks, he fights, he stares, he drinks. Often all within the same scene. Keeping up with Holmes is usually difficult because his genius puts him ten steps ahead. Keeping up with this Holmes is difficult because he seems to come from a different dimension, where men have cocaine for blood and eat adrenaline pudding for every meal. I don’t dislike his Holmes, but I do find him incredibly wearing. If it were not for Jude Law’s marvellous Watson, this would be a difficult watch.
On the whole I preferred the first film, I thought it was tighter, more focused and more restrained and it did not suffer from a terrible case of More. Holmes’ fighting style, where he mentally rehearses his moves before carrying them out, was new and effective in the first film, here it is terribly overused. The worst instance of this is in the final battle between Holmes and Moriarty, where both men indulge in a little fantasy fisticuffs before they actually fight. I didn’t want to see them plan, they were both meant to be out of plans, I just wanted them to go for it. The jokes have also been affected by More. Often they don’t work, such as Mycroft’s nakedness. Worst of all they are sometimes insulting, particularly when Holmes rides a tiny horse across Europe, whilst his companions are all on stallions, which demeans the Detective unnecessarily.
In short, A Game of Shadows is neither a great film, nor a bad one. It is average, with occasional moments of embarrassing humour and stunning imagery. Since this is a review, a rating system seems appropriate. Let’s call it a seven out of ten pipe problem.