Review: Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows

jason stives gets cloak and daggery with Sherlock and Watson …

During the final face-to-face confrontation between Sherlock Holmes and his arch nemesis James Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows, Holmes discusses the notion of having no loose ends in Moriarty’s scheme. It’s very fitting as ultimately the sequel to Guy Ritchie’s surprise 2009 hit feels intentionally like a loose end, but not without its share of charm, humor, and glamour. A Game Of Shadows feels a bit strange amidst the sudden revitalization of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famed 19th century detective, but it’s a logical step after the last one. Still, with the broadcast of the vastly (and personally) superior BBC series Sherlock in 2010, Ritchie’s world of the famed detective of Baker Street seems more sizzle and show than the more serious take of its television rival.

 

This is comparing a horse of a different color, and is a bit unfair, but it still lingers in silence. The first Sherlock Holmes was a perfectly handled vehicle for a 21st century audience not akin to Holmes and his cohort Dr. Watson. Ritchie’s knack for creating a brooding, realistic and cockney world of England translated well into Holmes’ Victorian London setting and was a lavish and clever specimen. Much of this came with the delivery of the snappy dialogue from stars Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, who played an old fashion buddy cop duo of a higher learning.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows may not be as good as its predecessor, but it sure is a fun ride and a more than worthy sequel to carry on. Still, it doesn’t go without issues along the way. The first hour is rather dreary, moving along at an unimpressionable pace with very little knowledge of the plot development — but there is a story nonetheless. Holmes has found himself immersed in studying and avoiding in many elaborate ways the so-called Napoleon of crime, Professor James Moriarty, a man who clearly has Sherlock’s number. After the death of his part-time lover Irene Adler and the deaths of several other people connected to Moriarty, Holmes is hot on his trail but feels abandoned without his partner Watson, who is about to marry his fiancé, Mary.

What is bothersome initially is how Holmes views himself and handles his mission. While his buffoonery in the first film seemed more like a justified front to fool the adversaries, here he starts out almost like a lunatic, as if Holmes believes the celebrity of being who he is and acts out of play intentionally. With barrage of ridiculous costumes, this doesn’t feel like Sherlock Holmes, but a haywire action hero. You understand suddenly why Watson wishes to distance himself from Holmes troubles, but as always it’s following right behind. Thankfully, this peters off as the film progresses, but the plot really doesn’t hold on well until the second half of the picture. If you have seen the various trailers for A Game Of Shadows, you have seen the first half of the movie summed up, although the attack on the train carrying Watson and his wife looks great visually and his handled very well. The second half is an international caper, and has a lot going for it.

Allowing A Game Of Shadows to go abroad really benefits the film and Ritchie shows off the luxurious nature of Europe in style with many great cityscape visuals and shots of the Germany and Switzerland countryside. While he has always been a visual person, Ritchie really prolongs many shots for too long — some work, and others are just jarring a bit, including the famed scene of Holmes and company running through an exploding forest. Exposition is in less than fine form here, but that probably comes with counterbalancing the film with far more action than long stages of deduction. Still, you constantly feel like the plot is unfolding slower than it should, and by film’s end, you are still not sure what the point of it all was. This isn’t too say it’s not explained, and the outcome probably has a more impressionable benefit than you would’ve expected, but it still feels like one giant lead on and then a collapse of everything up to that point.

The latest supporting players of A Game Of Shadows have much to be said both positive and negative. British comedy legend Stephen Fry fits wonderfully into the role of Mycroft, Holmes’ older but just as cynical parliamentary brother. The banter between Fry and Downey when it counts is very amusing, and instead of making Mycroft far more serious than Sherlock, he makes him just as ludicrous, even noting that he and Sherlock have a secret coding in letters that they exchange. On the other end of the spectrum, there is Swedish actress Noomi Rapace (the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), playing the gypsy fortune teller Sim, who acts as Holmes and Watson’s guide into finding the inner workings of Moriartys plot. Rapace, for all that she is worth as an actress and a stunning slice of European bliss, feels very wasted in this film. While she is a nice reliable addition to Holmes’ gang of detectives, she is never given much to work with and feels far more like a background character to the relationships of Holmes and Watson. She is given much to do, but she feels far more one dimensional than she probably should be.

Personally, the stand-out element of this film is Mad Men’s Jared Harris as Moriarty. Harris brings the snarky yet insane delivery to Moriarty that works off of Downey’s cocky and suicidal tendencies. He is a man of dedication to his professorial title but also one running calculating risks for profit, and like all good villains, to see the world go up in smoke. His plot to set the world into an unholy war is handled in a very sly way with many games and ploys acting like a chess game against Holmes. He knows the chase for Holmes is what drives him and he is willing to deliver the clues only to set him into horrifying traps that battle wit and whim on both their parts. The scenes between Holmes and Moriarty are genuinely thrilling, but it’s also where the film hits a painful obstacle.

Loose ends were mentioned at the beginning of this review, and this falls greatly on how Moriarty is handled by film’s end. The exposition is rushed and the overall longevity of Holmes and Moriarty’s rivalry is short-handed to fit in as much as possible in the last 25 minutes. The film feels like it has more to tell but not enough and many of the action scenes outweigh explanation to the plot. You do get a clear understanding of what is going on, but you get more ends justified than means. The film leaves itself open to the possibility of another sequel, but considering how the film ends (no bigger spoilers, just none I wish to reveal here), a question mark seems far more dignified in how to describe the films overall outcome and appeal.

A Game Of Shadows is definitely an enjoyable film, but if it had been arranged a little more cohesively, I wonder if things could have transpired in a more logical state? Maybe the scope of the film’s plot could have been far better off being carried into another film. Then again, maybe this was the right balance for such a sequel, and regardless of any convoluted ends; the film is an enjoyable piece of old English folklore mixed with a bang and pop of a contemporary big-budget blockbusters.

Rating: 7 out of 10 (Good)

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