‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows’ Review
In many ways, a better and more polished film than the first one.
In 2009, Guy Ritchie provided us with his unique modern interpretation of Sherlock Holmes which was fun yet unmemorable. Now, he’s finally perfected his formula and ‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows’ is a better sequel on every front. More action, more comedy and a much more engaging storyline that lends to a spectacular finale.
Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) returns back to action after a series of terrorist attacks that are seemingly connected to the mastermind Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris). But to tackle this treat, Holmes has to reteam with the newly married Watson (Jude Law) and a mysterious fortune teller (Noomi Rapace) to figure out the mastermind’s plan and put a stop to it which has the potential to change the course of history forever.
The first ‘Sherlock Holmes’ movie was a major hit which was a big achievement especially since it ran just a week after the monster named ‘Avatar’ was released. It still managed to hold its own and audiences loved Robert Downey Jr.’s interpretation of the character and how the film was modernized without bastardising the source material completely. But the film itself was far from perfect and felt overlong because the central mystery was padded and didn’t justify the runtime. It’s as if Guy Ritchie was trying his unique vision for the character out and the first film was his experiment. Now, he’s perfected his vision and ‘A Game of Shadows’ feels like a much more polished product.
We start off with a playful action sequence that introduces Holmes in grand fashion and it’s evident here how much importance action will have in the film. It takes quite a while for the actual plot to really begin because the film focuses on Holmes meeting Watson once again and all his marriage antics. This usually would have been a major hindrance to the storyline but the stuff here is actually very entertaining and engaging which makes the wait worth it. About twenty minutes in, Moriarty and Holmes start their face-off and the film kicks off from there. There’s a lot more focus on action this time than actual mystery which once may be a major deal-breaker for some since the movie is a Sherlock Holmes film, but Guy Ritchie somehow manages to integrate both of them and forward the plot during those bombastic action scenes. There are a lot bigger set pieces this time around including a hilarious yet well-staged train action scene that manages to impress. Also impressive is a huge forest scene that is brilliantly shot and is epic in scale even if some might find it a little too loud. Ritchie decides to make use of a lot of slow-motion here which undeniably looks good and even the pre-determined moves angle from the first film makes a clever return here. Suffice to say that as a blockbuster, Holmes more than impresses and feels bigger than the first film.
Even the mystery here is much more engaging and complex compared to the first film which had a simpler set of events which needed too much solving to do. This time around, Holmes is directly facing off his arch nemesis Moriarty who’s a genuine threat to Holmes not only in terms of his intelligence but also in the dark plan he has for the world which manages to put the entire world at stake. While the first film felt more like an origin story, the villainous forces are in full swing this time around which makes the mystery more engrossing and actually justifies the runtime which is just as long as the first one. But hands-on the most impressive part of the film is the third act. They say you save the best for last and Guy Ritchie did exactly that with this film. The finale is extremely clever in the way it resolves the plot and is actually very gripping on both an emotional and intellectual level and never before has a chess-game had so much subtext going on. The very final shot is playful and once again hints at a third adventure and ends on a high note.
That said, it’s still not a perfect film and a few of the problems that cropped up in the first film appear here as well. The biggest problem I have with the new franchise is that the runtime is always over two hours long yet the content itself doesn’t naturally lend to it. This wasn’t a big problem this time around since there was a more layered mystery, but there are scenes here that just exist to extend the plot even further are merely are excuses for the character to move on to another set-piece. This makes the film feel artificial at times. Also, Moriarity is an excellent villain but gets much less screentime here than you would expect. A more balanced point of view for the film would be better but I still say the villain this time around was handled much better. Another issue is the lack of a strong character for Noomi Rapace who is brought in as a mysterious new character but the film fails to give her any reason to be in the film and ends up being nothing more than a tag-along.
Robert Downey Jr. shines once again with his cocky yet physical interpretation of Holmes and actually ups the ante this time around. There’s a lot more action scenes that allow him to stretch his range and his comedic style is more fitting to this movie than it was to the last. Jude Law is excellent once again in the role of Watson and the wordplay between Holmes and him are some of the highlights of the film. His characters perfectly balances out Holmes’ character who is more rash in his decisions while Watson is more logical and just doesn’t want to be a part of such things anymore. Rachel McAdams does have a brief reprisal as Adler and does a decent job with it. Jared Harris is an interesting and offbeat choice to play Moriarty which is a role you’d think would go with a better known actor. But he’s clearly a great actor who brings a more threatening tone to the role than any known actor would have. Noomi Rapace has the right screen presence but as I said her character lacks purpose. Stephen Fry is the addition this time around in a limited but hilarious role as Holmes’ brother who has his own brand of humor.
In many ways, ‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows’ is a better film than the original despite what many reviews would peg it as. Sure, it plays safe with the formula but actually perfects it this time around and ends up being a solid adventure that delivers on action, comedy and intellect.