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Overall Rating

Awesome: 9.09%
Worth A Look: 12.12%
Pretty Bad: 30.3%
Total Crap: 3.03%

3 reviews, 15 user ratings

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Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
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by Brett Gallman

"Too elementary, my dear Watson."
2 stars

As I settled into my theater seat for this sequel, I realized that I remembered next to nothing about Guy Ritchie’s first outing besides the fact that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle probably could never have predicted that his greatest creation would somehow be transformed into a pretty neat, inventive little action flick. That I couldn’t recall much more probably has a lot to do with the two years (and many other movies) in between rather than the lack of quality of the film itself. After all, it featured a fairly inspired pairing of Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law, plus the directorial flair of Ritchie that must have made some sort of impression. Apparently, though, it didn’t make enough of one on anyone involved in this second go-round, which has already similarly evaporated from my brain in the span of about 12 hours.

If the first film was inching away from Doyle’s original sleuth-driven stories, “Game of Shadows” is practically sprinting from them. No longer confined just to London, the sequel finds Holmes hopping all over the globe to thwart the plot of his arch-nemesis, Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris). According to Holmes (who is bordering on manic), the renowned professor is embroiled in a huge, elaborate conspiracy that involves a bunch of assassinations and bombings across Europe.

That’s pretty much the gist of the setup--sometimes, I wondered if the “Game of Shadows” subtitle didn't refer to how audiences are basically kept in the dark. Obviously, a Sherlock Holmes story is driven by mystery, but this one feels more driven by laziness and vagaries. Essentially, we’ve seemingly come into the tail end of the Holmes/Moriarty conflict; you think the antagonist here is going to be set up as this enigmatic, larger than life figure. But no--there he is, fully revealed within a couple of scenes; in fact, he and Holmes aren’t strangers to each other, having already met several times. We even see the two come face-to-face early on in the film, where, again, the plot is basically reduced to these two engaging in a big chess game. Essentially, Moriarty will attempt to do something (such as assassinate Watson), and Holmes will try to stop him.

I can’t help but feel that the casual familiarity here just deflates the whole thing. There’s no sense of genuine mystery; instead, you’re just kind of left wondering about the particulars of what each particular section will entail, and it doesn’t take long for the film to degenerate into a series of flatly staged action sequences. We get a foot chase, a train shootout, and an assault on the villains’ hideout simply because they seem to be checked off of a list of things to squeeze into an action script. The screenplay seems so beholden to the typical structure that it becomes tedious and predictable; for example, when Holmes introduces Watson to a drug that can seemingly resuscitate the dead, is there any doubt that a major character isn’t really deceased during the requisite “let’s lick our wounds and recharge for the climax” scene?

Admittedly, the climax does manage to hit some high notes; it’s here that we’re presented to some neat concepts and a tight, central mystery involving the identity of an assassin. Few parts of “Game of Shadows” managed to perk me up, but this worked well enough. It is surrounded by a bunch of moving parts, as Holmes and Moriarty have their final showdown, which finally recalls the cerebral nature of their rivalry. With so much going on, it’s a bit of a mess, particularly when the script stumbles through a series of twists that had me wishing I could take some notes to make sense of it all. By the end, I couldn’t help but wonder if the final script ended up looking like Holmes’s own spider-webbed diagram of conspiracy in his office.

Most of all, I just couldn’t be bothered to care, probably because the familiarity and safeness of it all. The film goes for a somewhat big shock early on, only it’s hardly shocking to anyone who noticed Rachel McAdams’s limited presence in the marketing. Her character from the first film returns here, and her status with Holmes is a little unclear; the two have seemingly resumed their playfully antagonistic relationship from the original, but when she disappears from the narrative, Holmes doesn’t even seem to notice nor care--so why should we, right?

Credit Downey and Law for keeping this sucker afloat; their natural chemistry from the original film carries over, though their relationship kind of gets reduced to Holmes bitching at Watson for getting married. There’s no shortage of barbs and needling, and it’s another one of the notes that the film constantly hammers to shrill effect. Still, it’s hard not to find a little bit of enjoyment with these two actors; as the film unfolded, I did remember that I was the guy championing Law more so than Downey coming out of the first film, and I’d say the same here. Don’t get me wrong--Downey is full on charismatic Downey, and his swaggering persona feeds well into this particular portrayal of Holmes. However, Law’s dry, understated turn makes him a perfect Watson, the guy who has lived in the shadow of his more famous partner. Law has a soft weariness to him that works. This is not to say he lacks confidence, but is vulnerability is a nice compliment to the cockiness he often butts up against.

Along the way, they bump into a couple of new faces, namely Noomi Rapace, who plays a gypsy that’s somehow connected to Moriarty’s huge plot., and Stephen Fry as Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft. Both of these characters manage to be pretty much non-entities; Rapace’s gypsy is essentially there to provide exposition and give the gang an excuse to bomb on over to the next country, while Mycroft similarly just gets wedged into the proceedings as some bawdy comic relief.

Technically, not much is out of place; Ritchie’s a fine director who throws in some empty stylistic flourishes (such as that shifting motion trick that became passé a few years ago) in an effort to dazzle. Also returning from the original film are the neat little sequences that find Holmes deducting the trajectory of his conflicts, which still inventively merges the character’s cerebral aspects with the kinetic, action-star sensibilities of this particularly take.

But, ultimately, “Game of Shadows” just feels like a bit of studio inevitability rather than an actual passion project. The seemingly huge jump in the timeline even feels like an attempt to quickly spit out what any fans of the source material might expect: Holmes and Moriarty need to do battle, so here it is, hurriedly spattered forth with movie-of-the-week fanfare since we haven’t seen the intermittent showdowns that would render this truly epic and meaningful.

The film does end on a question mark, but I think we all know that the dollar signs at the box office will be more important in determining if this series lumbers on. That’s how we’ve gotten to this point, after all; sometimes this stuff is pretty elementary.

link directly to this review at
originally posted: 12/18/11 20:42:56
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Features Sherlock Holmes For more in the Sherlock Holmes series, click here.

User Comments

12/03/15 1800suckmydick well shot, well acted, well orchestrated, well done. 5 stars
1/17/13 ES Sherlock Holmes - Quantum of Solace. Sherlock shoots his way through a mystery 1 stars
9/19/12 Gabrielle Barnard I enjoyed the brilliant acting and intriguing story line. 5 stars
9/16/12 Eric Stevens It's Simply Entertaining from beginning to end-Quit overthinking it! Geezzz 5 stars
8/24/12 The Taitor A littleflat or a sequel but still wrotha rental at best. 3 stars
7/21/12 Sean Harrison Better than the first movie, but not as good as the stories. 4 stars
7/01/12 mr.mike Worth a shot but gets dragged down by the plot-heavy second 4 stars
1/24/12 Devin Sabas skip it. the bbc is doing it way better 2 stars
1/13/12 Donald Hallett not my type of movie boring 2 stars
1/02/12 Alan Left before the end. Boring. 2 stars
12/21/11 green O should be ok 3 stars
12/21/11 Stacie Clark haven't we done this before? 3 stars
12/20/11 KingNeutron I liked it even better than the 1st one - here's hoping for more to the story :) 4 stars
12/17/11 Ming Its better than the original. Its very witty and fun to watch 4 stars
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  16-Dec-2011 (PG-13)
  DVD: 12-Jun-2012


  DVD: 12-Jun-2012

Directed by
  Guy Ritchie

Written by
  Kieran Mulroney
  Michele Mulroney

  Robert Downey Jr.
  Jude Law
  Noomi Rapace
  Jared Harris
  Stephen Fry

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