Monday, March 12, 2012

Review: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes - released back in 2009 - is a fun take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famed sleuth. Holmes is portrayed brilliantly by Robert Downey Jr. as an enigmatic savant who shares an antagonistic brotherly camaraderie with Jude Law’s Watson.  The film does a nice job of teasing the emergence of Moriarty by slowly revealing him as a shadowy figure tacitly pulling the proverbial marionette strings from behind a curtain of anonymity.  In doing so, it lays the groundwork for the inevitable sequel (because of a $522M worldwide gross).  It’s like setting up the bowling pins, and then knocking them down.

Only in the second installment – Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Guy Ritchie and crew roll a gutter ball.  Okay, so maybe the movie is not that bad.  Maybe it is something more along the lines of a seven-ten split, but then I think that would be taking the bowling analogy too far.   So you may be wondering how things could have gone so awry when Downey Jr. and Law fall right back into step with their rapid witty banter without missing a beat and just in time to take on the evil genius who is bent on profiting from the destruction of Europe?

To me the problem boils down to the script.  Specifically, writer Michelle Mulroney attempts to get too clever with the plot.  A battle of wit and mental acumen between two brilliant people like Holmes and Moriarty lends itself to the written word, but not so much to motion pictures.  It can be challenging enough to take viewers on a journey through the mind of one genius who is mentally superior to the common person.  When you try and do that times two amidst a barrage of plots turns and twists, one is most assuredly going to fall victim to the trap of “aspiring for so much and achieving so little. “

Further exasperating the problem is that the esteemed cast does little to mitigate the shortcomings of the script.  Rachel McAdams is the weak link in the first movie as Holmes’ love interest Irene Adler, and she still feels out of place in limited screen time during the second outing.  Noomi Rapace is pedestrian as the gypsy Madam Heron whose significance in the film continually diminishes until she is rendered completely insignificant.  Jared Harris lacks the polish to portray the professor-by-day-evil-genius-at-night antagonist that Moriarty represents and he serves as a reminder that it takes more than a British accent to make one seem sophisticated.  And sadly, nothing about Stephen Fry’s Mycroft Holmes works for me in the film.  His presence is a case of subtraction by addition.

However, the action sequences are impressive and that is where the entertainment value lies.  If you’re looking for a film with gunfire, loud explosions, and hand-to-hand combat; and you can overlook cerebral shortcomings, you will definitely enjoy the movie.  Even if you’re not, I suspect that watching Robert Downey Jr. work will be worth the price of either the purchase or rental.  You won’t feel cheated if you invest time and/or money into this film.  You just may not feel fully satisfied.

Standout Performance:  Downey Jr. and Law have collectively mastered the art of witty repartee.


  1. Nice review of the movie.

    Have you seen the Russian adaptation with Vasily Livanov as Sherlock Holmes..