Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows continues director Guy Ritchie’s efforts to turn the famous consulting detective into an action hero. But the more Holmes is moved in that direction, the more he moves away from the things that make the character who he is. Thus, while the sequel is fairly entertaining, it’s not as good as the first, and nowhere near many of the other stories in the Holmes canon.
Things begin well enough. We find Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) hard on the trail of the diabolical Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris), whose intellect, equal to Holmes, has made him very difficult to catch. The opening scenes, in which Holmes discovers a bombing plot involving pseudo-girlfriend Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), recreate everything that was good about the first movie – the disguises, the observations and deductions, and Downey’s wise-ass take on the character.
Foiling the bombing, Holmes comes into possession of a letter that will eventually lead him and Dr. Watson (Jude Law) into an elaborate assassination plot orchestrated by Moriarty, and off they go to Europe, with the help of gypsy fortune teller Madam Simza (Noomi Rapace, overly restrained) and Holmes’ statesman brother Mycroft (Stephen Fry, witty as always).
But the further they get from London, the more the movie breaks down. Pursued and attacked by Moriarty’s men at every turn, Holmes and Watson are so constantly on the move that there’s no time for the detective work that makes these stories great. Yes, characters are interviewed, clues are found, and questions are eventually answered, but there’s no sense of solving a mystery here. In essence, A Game of Shadows is no more of a detective movie than any buddy cop film you’ve ever seen.
Okay, that might not be fair. The story is involving, Harris is a believable villain, and the centerpiece relationship between Holmes and Watson is still there, played brilliantly as before by Downey and Law. Ritchie’s action and camera work, including his trademark slow-motion effects, are also spectacular to watch, even if there’s often so much spectacle that the substance is lost.
But characters with as much history as these carry a lot of baggage. However much we might enjoy the subversion of our expectations, we still want Holmes and Watson to be Holmes and Watson. And there’s just not enough of that here – indeed, at the end, Holmes and Moriarty match wits over a game of chess, while Watson is in another room solving the final problem by himself. If he can do that, then where’s the grand riddle that the brilliant detective was needed for in the first place?
Better to have just called it A Game of Shadows, and left the Sherlock Holmes part off. I’m not sure anyone would have missed it.
Tags: movie review