Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (DVD/Blu-Ray) – Dir. Guy Ritchie. Starring Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Jared Harris.
Frantic action detective story that suffers from trying to do too much.
This sequel to 2009’s Sherlock Holmes puts Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and Dr. Watson (Jude Law) up against Holmes’ classic nemesis Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) in a case that threatens the stability of the entire world.
Director Guy Ritchie’s version of Holmes is famously more hands-on than the ones who have come before him. He fights off gangs of thugs in slow motion and takes in most of his clues while being shot at or tortured.
I have no problem with this action hero edition of Sherlock Holmes, but it seems to me that these new talents shouldn’t come at the expense of what the character has represented for the last century.
Because one thing should be known upfront about A Game of Shadows: this is not a mystery film. It does not contain anything that mystery fans would call a mystery. The closest thing you’ll find is the opening question of why someone (i.e. Moriarty) is planting bombs in public places across Europe. The rather straightforward answer comes somewhere around the halfway point, and can be pieced together from approximately two low-hanging pieces of evidence much earlier than that. The rest of A Game of Shadows is all about psychological warfare, Mission Impossible-style spy games, and a lot of extravagant violence.
The film has twists and clever reveals along the way, but they don’t arise from the clues we’re given. To hide the solution, Ritchie hides the evidence—dramatically revealing answers to questions that were never asked, using clues we never knew existed.
It’s a technique popular among thrillers and action films trying to come across as smarter than they really are, which is indeed what A Game of Shadows turns out to be. It’s an action movie, or more accurately a superhero movie in which the hero’s superpower is “thinking.”
But even as an action movie, Sherlock Holmes is underwhelming. It’s bogged down with needless complexities: unnecessary characters, objects, twists, scenery changes, and schemes within schemes. It frequently drags, especially in its first act. It’s at least half an hour longer than it needs to be.
But it’s also not a bad movie. Harris and Downey Jr. shine in their roles. The script always has an unorthodox solution to offer against a common problem. The dialog is witty. All of it adds up to a cohesive vision.
What it’s missing is focus and a sense of restraint. And I suppose a mystery to solve shouldn’t have been too much to ask.
Rated PG-13 for hypothetical violence.
3 out of 5
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (DVD/Blu-Ray) – Dir. Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor. Starring Nicolas Cage, Ciarán Hinds, Idris Elba.
The sequel nobody wanted to the movie nobody liked.
Nicolas Cage is Johnny Blaze, a former motorcycle stuntman who neglected all the warnings on the after-school specials and sold his soul to the devil. As a consequence, his head now occasionally turns into a flaming skull and he rides around on a demonic motorcycle feeding on the souls of the wicked.
This condition turned out to be chronic, and now, five years after the first movie, Johnny is still wandering the globe searching for a cure and being really, really careful when he fuels up his bike.
Spirit of Vengeance’s plot surrounds a 12-year-old boy whom the Ghost Rider needs to protect from the devil’s grabby hands. Like every character in the film, the boy gets a one-scene introduction to establish all there is to know about his personality and then coasts for the rest of the movie. After taking him for one highly irresponsible bike ride, Johnny suddenly has a father-son relationship with the kid.
Ghost Rider’s action scenes are just as drab as its storytelling. The Rider is apparently invincible and unstoppable, leaving the time he wastes showboating before every kill as his only weakness. Without any worthy opponents or credible obstacles, Johnny’s supernatural half has hardly anything to do—which is perhaps why it barely appears three times in the film for a few brief, lifeless battles.
But not to worry: Ghost Rider has no apparent interest in being a good movie. It doesn’t even try to maintain a consistent tone as it flits between melodrama and cheesy one-liners. It sabotages its attempts at being cool with cartoony cutaway gags.
A more fundamental problem is that the entire Ghost Rider property feels dated: a noisy, tacky style of edginess that belongs to the world of ‘70s album covers and ‘90s comic books trying too hard to be dark.
Cage’s performance as Johnny Blaze might be—and I realize this is saying a lot—the most ridiculous one he has ever given. A scene where he twitches and barks hysterically as he attempts to keep himself from eating a gangster’s soul tops even his greatest moments of shrieking about bees or running down the street screaming that he’s a vampire.
Ciarán Hinds’ performance as the devil (taking over from Peter Fonda) is one unexpected bright spot. He’s creepy and bad-tempered, but more nuanced than the rage-seething villain we see in most takes on the character.
The movie might be worth watching for a laugh.
Rated R for use of fire in place of helmet.
2 out of 5