“Sherlock Holmes,” released in 2009 and starring Robert Downey Jr. as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic hero, perfectly toed the line between breezy fun and dumb blockbuster. This was mostly thanks to Downey’s Holmes noticing things the audience didn’t. What looked like Holmes simply rubbing his fingers together was actually the detective investigating a clue. “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” follows the blockbuster sequel rulebook to a tee – it’s bigger, louder and unfortunately dumber.
This time around, Holmes is up against his arch-nemesis Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris). Moriarty also was in the first film, but only appeared in the shadows, mostly bossing around Holmes’ love interest Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams, back again in a cameo). Moriarty also had a secret gun and stole a device that harnessed radio waves in the original, neither of which show up in “Game of Shadows.”
In fact, Moriarty isn’t even much of a villain. The “Napoleon of crime,” who supposedly is just as smart as Holmes, has few opportunities to show it, as most of the dirty deeds are done by his henchmen, the biggest of whom is Colonel Moran, a sharpshooter whose weapon of choice is a silent blowgun. Even Moriarty’s plan, which is to embroil Europe in war so he can profit off a weapons factory he owns, is fairly half-baked. It isn’t until the film’s climax that we get to see just how intelligent the man really is.
What made the first “Sherlock Holmes” a step above most blockbusters was not only the fun banter between Holmes and his partner Dr. John Watson (Jude Law), but also the fascinating methods the detective employed to gather clues and solve the case. “Game of Shadows” eschews much of the investigating for a more linear action-adventure story and the banter, while much heavier on the bromance side of things, is tired and unfunny.
Director Guy Ritchie, who showed some restraint with his trademark style in the original, is given free reign to go hog wild in “Game of Shadows,” with mixed results. Some of the slow-motion sequences are excessive and unnecessary, but a chase through the forest that shows trees exploding and bullets tearing through clothes in slow motion is exciting and just plain amazing to watch.
Yes, “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” is a problematic film. Most of the characters, including Holmes, Watson and their new sidekick Simza (the original “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” Noomi Rapace), are one-note and exist only to get the film to the next big action sequence. Stephen Fry, who play’s Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft, is a welcome breath of fresh air and comic relief, but he’s about the only one in the cast who looks like they’re having fun.
That said, “Game of Shadows” has some redeeming qualities with superb action sequences and an entertaining final act. The plot chugs along, making all of the necessary stops for an action film, but ultimately everything is revealed to have had more than one meaning, which should make for nice repeat viewings. Unfortunately, after one viewing, all it does is leave a longing that a lot of these tricks should’ve been revealed earlier so the plot wouldn’t seem so paint-by-numbers.
Grade: 2 1/2 out of 4
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and some drug material
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Jared Harris
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures