At the Movies: Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows; Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

This holiday season has been sadly lacking in action-adventure films, so naturally two big ones are opening at the same time. Way to schedule things, Hollywood.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Director Guy Ritchie continues his efforts at transforming Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famed detective into a kind of autistic Batman with “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.”

This sequel to the 2009 hit features more of the same and not much more. If you enjoyed the first one and want more of the same, you should enjoy this one as well. It’s a perfectly adequate sequel but it doesn’t raise the bar for the franchise.

This go around, Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) has been chasing after James Moriarty (Jared Harris), a renowned professor who Holmes believes is responsible for a number of murders and is planning some major mischief.

He’s right of course, so Moriarty warns Holmes that if he doesn’t back away things could go badly for his friend Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) and Watson’s soon-t0-be bride Mary (Kelly Reilly).

Watson believes himself free of Holmes’ antics, but when Moriarty sends thugs to kill the newlyweds, it’s clear that Holmes and Watson must team up one more time to bring the bad professor down.

As mentioned earlier, “A Game of Shadows” features all the cinematic twists and tricks of the original. There are a lot of fights and action scenes that are sped up, slowed down, stopped, etc. Holmes continues to be wildly eccentric while Watson is as patient as ever. Holmes still does his unique “thinking-ahead” gimmick, but this time around instead of having him narrate it, we’re just given the visuals and left to work it out ourselves.

A few new characters were brought in, such as Holmes’ brother (Stephen Fry) and a fortune teller (Noomi Rapace) but neither add anything significant to the proceedings. It’s also the first significant appearance of Holmes’ arch nemesis, and Harris does a decent job as Professor Moriarty.

The story was easier to follow this time around, which is always a good thing. There is a big cheat at the end which I won’t spoil but feel really needed some kind of explanation.

Did it work for me? “A Game of Shadows” lacks the freshness of the original but it’s still a solid sequel.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

I’m not a big fan of the “Mission Impossible” movies — I wasn’t even sure which number this is (it’s the fourth, if you’re counting) — but two things made me want to see this latest one:

1) New cast member Jeremy Renner, who I’ve been a fan of since “The Hurt Locker,” and

2) Director Brad Bird, whose previous works are all excellent — “The Iron Giant,” The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille.” Yes, they’re all cartoons, but a great film is a great film. I was really looking forward to seeing what he could do with a live-action action movie.

Mr. Bird did not disappoint. Not only is “Ghost Protocol” the best of the “Mission Impossible” films, but it’s the best action-adventure film of the year that doesn’t have Thor in it (a film which also, briefly, featured Jeremy Renner).

The movie opens with ace IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) in a Russian prison. He’s freed by fellow agents Jane (Paula Patton) and Benji (Simon Pegg) and then offered a new dangerous mission which he chooses to accept.

The government is seeking the identity of a mystery man known as Cobalt (Michael Nyqvist). Cobalt wants to start a nuclear war and he’s about to obtain the launch codes to do it. To find out Cobalt’s identity, Ethan and company must infiltrate the Kremlin.

This is why they don’t call it Mission: Easy.

Ethan manages to make his way inside, just as Cobalt blows up half the Kremlin to cover his tracks. The IMF team is blamed for the bombing and as a result the President disavows the organization, leaving Ethan, Jane and Benji on their own to both clear their names and stop nuclear holocaust. Dragged along for the ride is Agent Brandt (Jeremy Renner), a government analyst who proves to be more than just a number-cruncher in a suit.

“Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” features a compelling story, gorgeously shot exotic locales and an engaging cast (I didn’t even mind comedy relief Simon Pegg — much). But the real highlight are the numerous action sequences, including Ethan’s nerve-wracking climb up a skyscraper and a foot/car chase in a sandstorm.

“Ghost Protocol” opens wide on Wednesday but it opens on IMAX and large screen formats today. I saw this in IMAX and I have to say, it certainly enhanced the experience. Much more so that a lot of the 3D I’ve suffered through. If you’ve got the extra cash and don’t mind sitting through the seemingly endless IMAX hype that runs prior to the show, it’s worth it.

Did it work for me? Have you not been paying attention? There are a few aspects of the story I found wonky, but overall this is the action movie I’ve been waiting for all season.


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