SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS Review

There is an energy to the Sherlock Holmes films that engages an audience member such as myself. It is not a dumbed down action film that takes itself too seriously, in fact the film had me laughing much more than I expected. This franchise is about style and Holmes has a lot of it even if he doesn't flaunt it. The way in which Robert Downey Jr. portrays the character seems to have no resemblance to the classic character of Arthur Conan Doyle's literature, but the characteristics that Downey does add, the kind of smooth talking eccentric is what makes the pairing of he and Dr. Watson so appealing. And that is indeed the highlight of this second film as much of the time and story is paid to the constantly changing relationship between Watson and Holmes. As was indicated in the first film, Watson is getting married and when it actually comes time for the ceremony in "Game of Shadows" it finally sinks in with Holmes that he will be somewhat losing his best friend. While this serves as a motivation for Holmes to cherish the sidekick he never showed appreciation it also makes Holmes detest the man who has designed an elaborate plan to disrupt the world by jump starting WWI. While some may not enjoy this Holmes as much as the first, the pure fact it positions Holmes against his greatest nemesis, Professor James Moriarty, is reason enough to see it. The fact director Guy Ritchie keeps the tone and style the same while capturing bigger and better action sequences on screen should also allow the film an approving nod from all fans of the series.

Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and his sidekick
Watson (Jude Law) toast to Watson's upcoming wedding.
"Game of Shadows" drops the super natural element brought to the first film by villain Marc Strong in service of adding Holmes's greatest archenemy Professor Moriarty. Mad Men's Jarred Harris portrays the criminal genius with a flair of arrogance and grit that is smarmy yet inviting. As Moriarty, Harris is the right amount of indulgent villain with enough credibility to come off as the genius he is portraying The new film gives us Holmes coming to the aid of a fortuneteller (Noomi Rapace in her American film debut) who is threatened by Moriarty. He does this on the eve of Watson's wedding, somewhat luring the groom-to-be into killing two birds with one stone. The films compliment one another better than expected as at first we were led to believe Rachel McAdams Irene Adler would not be returning for the sequel, but as revealed in the opening moments she is of much importance to our story and Holmes' motivation to do away with Moriarty. This continuity funnily enough gave me a kind of peace over the series. In realizing the scope of the plot was much broader with this one than the first it also gave me the instinct this was a film in which everyone involved did seem to be trying. That seems more and more an important quality in these blockbuster films as they sometimes can be so rushed for release we see the affects on the quality, but I was nothing if not satisfied at the conclusion of "Game of Shadows".

Holmes and Watson team up with Madam Simza Heron
(Noomi Rapace) to protect her from Moriarty.
I have always enjoyed director Guy Ritchie's insight into the gritty underground world of England and how he brought that to the 19th century proved even more intriguing than I anticipated. The way in which he captures the tone with the films gray palette and Victorian set design with a lack of elegance is all the more engaging in terms of creating a world for these characters to exist in. I think the guy has a knack for pre-visualizing the film in his head and how it will play out. In all of his films, there are scenes of real innovation where editing is key, but the way in which it is shot compliment that editing style all the more. In the Sherlock films this proves true when Holmes envisions his battle tactics before they even happen. This innovation in style was a stand-out in the first film and those sequences continue in the second as the techniques to how the story is told are just as important to the story the film is telling. This is an important lesson that filmmakers should take note of, as Ritchie especially just seems to "get it". The down side of the second Sherlock though is indeed the execution of the story. Most problems seeming to come inherently from the script though. The film feels a bit long even at two hours and I was especially disappointed at the fact Rapace was not more prominently featured. While I appreciated the character development within our two leads it seemed to leave everything else as an afterthought. Even Moriarty (though his scheme was as crafty and epic as expected) seemed to have limited screen time.

Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris) has Holmes right
where he wants him, at least he thinks he does.
The overall effect didn't suffer as much as those previous sentences might lead you to expect though. As the film reached its second act it seemed to find its grounding and the pacing was much better allowing it to go out on a high note. In the end "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" was an entertaining thrill ride that in many regards improved upon the original. I was left with a fun, adventurous, feeling as the last frame of the film flashed on screen. It is simply good fun and it is clear Downey Jr. has just as much fun playing Sherlock as he does Tony Stark. That is what the attraction of these films really comes down to. That central figure of Downey and his sharp edged charisma pulls on the curiosity of viewers and what he has done and will continue to do with such a classic and iconic character. The pairing of he and Jude Law, whom I have failed to mention so far, is one of the better on screen pairs in recent years as well. I can at least hope that the final scene proves true and that the dynamics it has set up give us a possibly better scripted third entry in the series, but one that keeps the same amount of energy and effort going for it as these first two films. The way I see it, things can only get better from here.