Call me stubborn, but I’m still bothered by the fact that Sherlock Holmes has been turned into a bare-knuckle brawling eccentric comedian. Reboot, re-imagining, re-whatever, it still pushes my buttons. That being said, building off the world created in the first film, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is a much better film than its predecessor and ends up getting a few things right.
The movie takes place a number of months following the final moments of the first film. Watson is to be wed the following morning, and Holmes is taking a minute-long break from his obsession with James Moriarty (a well loved and coveted professor whom Holmes knows to be a maniacal criminal mastermind) to throw Watson his stag party. Here, taking a break means dragging Watson to a gentleman’s club where Holmes plans to meet a gypsy fortune teller he knows Moriarty is after. Slowly but surely, Holmes inadvertently puts Watson and his wife’s lives in more danger than expected, and the two team up one more time (with the addition of the gypsy Sim) to figure out Moriarty’s plan and stop him, once and for all.
In nearly every aspect, the film picks up right where the last one left off — from the humor, to Holmes’s slow-motion thought process, the film opens the door of disappointment. However, as the power of Moriarty’s mad genius begins to unfold, Holmes realizes he may be outmatched, and the film takes on a more serious tone. As the plot unfolds, the film finally delivers a dark and menacing overtone. This is when Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows shines.
After learning that Moriarty was not Holmes’s foe in the first film, I was dumbstruck. How was the detective’s famed arch-nemesis not the villain? Ultimately, it was the right choice. Having Moriarty dropped into a realm of already established characters helps build the tension between the two masterminds. The treatment of Moriarty’s brilliance and how it plays against Holmes’s pride is on par with the matching of wits the original stories’ perpetuated.
The action sequences of the film can feel exhilarating and look impressive, but the overuse of slow motion and somewhat masturbatory attempts to look stylish quickly wear thin. Lapsing back into his Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels tricks a little too much, director Guy Ritchie takes every chance he gets to throw in fast-cut, quick-action montages. The understandably attractive madness also does not mix well with the movie’s chess game analogies (another cliche’ I wish would die a final death).
Even though I’m displeased with the style of the new Holmes character, it’s fun to watch Downey, Jr. do his thing. He moves effortlessly into his damaged persona as Moriarty beats him physically and mentally, but his nutty antics are still the bigger draw. New cast additions Stephen Fry (Holmes’ older brother Mycroft), Jared Harris (Moriarty), and Noomi Rapace (Sim) add their own little blend to the film, next to what amounts to the Downey, Jr. and Jude Law show.
Both films in the series immediately suggest that Holmes would know the exact outcome of the travails you’re about to witness, and, well, that turns me off. The fact that I can easily predict what will happen annoys me. Maybe I still can’t let go of my preconceptions of what a Sherlock Holmes story should be, but I just can’t love this film. Through a much darker imagining and carefree sense of its character treatment, I certainly can like it, though.