Theatrical Review: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Famed consulting detective Sherlock Holmes is hot on the trail of a diabolical scheme from his arch nemesis Professor James Moriarty.  Moriarty plans to plunge France and Germany into a major war from which he will profit from in a heavy way.  Now Holmes and his trusted companion, Dr. Watson set out to thwart these plans.

That’s the premise to Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, director Guy Ritchie’s second outing with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic character with Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes and Jude Law as Watson.  I enjoyed their first film a great deal (though I wasn’t expecting so due to the initial trailers- those trailers led me to believe that this was going to be a snarky, jokey version of Holmes, yet another instance where movie marketing betrays a movie).

With all of the key players still in place and the able addition of actor Jared Harris in the role of Moriarty the promise was certainly here for a good movie and for the most part it is a lot of fun though I have a few quibbles with it.

On the plus side, the look of the movie is fantastic.  The production design is absolutely first-rate.  I was pleased to see Ritchie still use his “signature” for Holmes with his hyper-kinetic sequences where Holmes sees every important aspect of a scene and Holmes in turn already working out his solutions.  Some already have problems with this sort of slo-mo storytelling, but I think it’s fantastic and these scenes are real standouts for me.  I really enjoyed Hans Zimmer’s score in the first film and was certainly glad to see his return here.

Where this falters… well, it is a little too long and probably could’ve been tightened up by a good 15-20 minutes.  Some might attribute this to Ritchie’s signature scenes, but I see it more for taking a little too much time to hammer in some of their comedic parts, in particular a scene involving Holmes on a horse and another with Holme’s brother Mycroft and Watson’s new wife.

My second quibble is somewhat spoiler-ish in nature, so you’ve been given fair warning (jump to the next paragraph if you want to avoid this),  One thing that I really like about this film is the fact that it does borrow facets of Doyle’s “The Final Problem” which at it’s end kills off both Holmes and Moriarty.  Even though Holmes survives this by the end of the film (which isn’t a big surprise), this didn’t exactly seem to me the way to go with a second film in the franchise.  Considering how Moriarty wasn’t directly shown in the first movie, I think it would’ve been better to build up more to his first full-blown appearance in a Holmes film as the primary villain.  For a second movie, I would’ve rather had seen Ritchie and company take a story like “The Hound of the Baskervilles” as an primary story and still build up Moriarty as a secondary story which could’ve then lead right into A Game of Shadows. It’s still an enjoyable film as it is, but I thought Moriarty deserved more of a build-up rather than going straight to him for the second film.

Downey and Law are terrific though their chemistry is played down a little form the first movie, primarily due to Watson’s marriage.  Downey certainly surprises me at just how good he looks during the action sequences as I just don’t normally associate him with being an action movie guy.  Sure, he’s in the Iron Man films, but even then when he’s in action, he’s in the armor and you just don’t see his face when he’s at work.  I think he’s quite credible in those scenes and Guy Ritchie certainly milks it for all it’s worth.  Jude Law has the harder role of “grounding” Holmes.  It’s nowhere near as “showy” a part, but Law does a terrific job and now it would certainly be hard to not think of him in the part for this version of the franchise.

Jared Harris is probably better known to audiences for his appearances on the TV show Fringe. He was certainly a surprise here being cast as Moriarty, but not an unpleasant one (especially considering all of the bigger names that were first being bantered around).  His Moriarty is indeed the opposite number of Holmes and it’s truly in evidence in the film’s final scenes.

Rachel McAdams, Eddie Marsan and Geraldine James all return as Irene Adler, Inspector Lestrade and Mrs. Hudson respectively, but their parts are nowhere near as large as what they were in the first film and it would’ve been nice to see just a little more.  Considering the nature of this film, there really was nowhere to use them more.  Kelly Reilly also returns as Watson’s wife and fares better.  New additions to the series include Stephen Fry as Mycroft Holmes and Noomi Rapace as Madam Simza Heron.  Fry is terrific as Holme’s brother, though as I said above, the scene with him and Kelly Reilly does go on a bit long.  Rapace is important to the plot of the film, but mostly in getting things moving rather than having any sort of real character that you can get engaged with.  She looks terrific, but she deserved more than that.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
goes on a bit long and in my opinion, just shouldn’t have been the story used for the second in this film series, but with that said, I still had a good time with it.  That good time is largely due to Guy Ritchie’s terrific visual sense and fun performances from Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law and Jared Harris.  I no doubt expect this to series to continue beyond this film and certainly look forward to what they’ll spring on us next.

About Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

18. December 2011 by Darren Goodhart
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