Movie Review: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Jared Harris, Noomi Rapace, Stephen Fry
Directed By: Guy Ritchie
Written By: Michele Mulroney, Kieran Mulroney (screenplay), from the characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle
Warner Bros., 2011
PG-13; 129 minutes
3 stars (out of 5)


Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is a fun movie. Entertaining. Which is what it's supposed to be. But it's not a great movie. I found my mind wandering at moments. And when you're talking Sherlock Holmes--a man whose mind moves so quickly that one should have to pay attention to keep up--well, it's kind of a shame that it didn't engage me more or require more effort.

The movie brings us back to Jude Law playing Watson to Downey's Holmes. (View my review of the first film for a refresher.) Watson has removed himself from Baker Street in advance of his coming marriage. Meanwhile, Holmes has become obsessed with the nefarious dealings of Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris). When Moriarty threatens Watson and his new bride, Holmes has no choice but to hijack their honeymoon. Mrs. Watson is shipped off to Holmes' brother Mycroft (Fry) for safe keeping while Holmes and Watson trek from Paris to Germany to Switzerland, putting together the pieces of their adversary's great puzzle. There is no question how it will end--anyone who knows anything about Sherlock Holmes knows Switzerland means only one thing, and Mycroft mentions Reichenbach early in the movie--but the getting there is half the fun, right?

Well, yes and no. A lot of the film is a game of dress up more than shadows; Downey sports innumerable disguises throughout. Meanwhile, what passes for intrigue is thin indeed, hence my ability to check out a couple times without really having missed much. Rapace as a Gypsy in search of her missing brother is an excuse for the plot, leaving her to act as so much wallpaper during much of the movie. Still, there is humor, and while some of the visual effects are gimmicky (the fight between Holmes and the Cossack can barely be followed due to cuts, dark lighting, and sped up film), the scene in which they run through the forest is optically interesting, making a scene that would otherwise be too long seem just right.

SH:AGOS attempts a nod at the bromance aspect of Holmes' and Watson's relationship (sharing tight quarters! and they dance together!) but it falls short of homoerotic, probably due to not wanting to risk the male audience's discomfort. Here Holmes and Watson are more like frat brothers than anything romantic.

To summarize: the dialogue is clunky in places and the plot is thin, but SH:AGOS still manages to please on a few levels. The chemistry between Downey and Law is distinct and almost tangible, entertaining enough in its own right. Paul Anderson did an especially fine job as sharpshooter Colonel Sebastian Moran. And watching Holmes and Moriarty play chess--both literally and mentally--is compelling at times as well, making one wish they'd interacted a bit more. Also, if they'd played Holmes as a bit more manic, more obsessed with Moriarty, almost to the point that one would have to wonder if he wasn't just losing it . . . That would have added some dimension and made the whole of the story that much more involving. Alas, the down side of having a well-known character with an equally well-known nemesis is that you can't really pull something like that off very easily; everyone knows Moriarty is evil. Right? (Maybe with the next one they can have Holmes insisting Moriarty is alive, but nobody believes him?)

The first film had a stronger plot and was better written. That one also had a sort of "play along" feel that allowed the audience to gather the clues along with Holmes, something SH:AGOS sort of cheats on. But this one is still fun, a solid enough entry in what is looking to become another big franchise for Downey & co.

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