Review: ‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows’

'It’s Downey unleashed. Imagine if Tony Stark is Downey restrained.'

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

One of the premiere screenings at this weekend’s Butt Numb-A-Thon in Austin, TX was the sequel Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. I was a big fan of Sherlock Holmes, though to be honest I haven’t watched it a second time in the last two years, so I guess I don’t love it that much. I was worried my fandom was so fair-weather that I wouldn’t even care about the sequel by now. Fortunately, that’s not the case. The sequel reminded me a lot about what I liked about the first one. While it also reminded me that I thought the predecessor worked a little better, I find Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadowsmore than satisfying.

I really like the way Rachel McAdams is used in this. You know she’s not a leading role this time, but it gives you nice continuity between the films. Holmes and Adler (McAdams) maintain the same witty relationship. It’s like we’re seeing a third act in the beginning. Adler had a whole story, we just came late. I feel like sequels used to always bring back significant characters in smaller parts. It was a great way to use a character in a different capacity. The caveat is that it also reminds you how missed she is from the rest of the movie.

The powers of Holmes’ observation remain visually demonstrated. Just a glance at a horticulture book and a dead plant tell an entire story. All the little things pay off, but it’s even more refreshing that a lead character in a movie notices detail. His perfect planning is always fun, especially when everything he set up before the scene is revealed.

There’s still big action handled smartly. Explosions and parkour play second fiddle to Holmes’ subtle actions navigating them. There are a few clips so shaky and cut so choppy they obscure the action, but most of the moves you see clearly. It is bigger on a practical level though. We go beyond London, so far-reaching it almost feels like a Lord of the Rings quest across Europe. That might make it feel a bit more distant too. We like Holmes in the U.K. There’s Joel Silver all over this, with a set piece every ten minutes involving massive weapons, explosions and destruction. The speed ramping and Matrix-y effect does look nice.

The banter with Watson (Jude Law) feels a little forced this time. I know he’s supposed to be the curmudgeon to Holmes but it feels contrived. Watson gets married and tries to go on a honeymoon when he’s forced back into the case. What, did “two days to retirement” not exist back in Victorian England? It feels like a stretch that he’s so resistant. Yeah, it was his honeymoon, but he should be in on the fun even if he throws back at Holmes along the way. Holmes’ naked brother (Stephen Fry) is a really cheap laugh.

The dialogue is so quick you may have to see it a second time. The bromance is very overt, from the innuendo to actually laying down and cross dressing together. So it’s not subtle, but if you liked the bromance in the first film, they gave you more. Holmes is definitely more manic. That works as comedy, but if the first film was an untraditional Sherlock Holmes, this one is way escalated. It’s Downey unleashed. Imagine if Tony Stark is Downey restrained.

The promise of the original was that Moriarty (Jared Harris) was now in the game. There’s not enough Moriarty on screen now and that is a disappointment. I know he’s supposed to permeate the mystery, having set up all the elements Holmes must solve. But he’s in too few scenes on screen to establish a presence. Give us a little taste here. They finally establish the hatred and rivalry at the end of the film, so we basically have to wait for Sherlock 3. A good tease is nice (like Moriarty at the end of Sherlock 1and the Joker in Batman Begins), but this was supposed to be the payoff. It’s barely an escalation.

I like Noomi Rapace as the new girl. She’s really just a vehicle for exposition and the token woman, but she looks great and brings a more international flavor to the adventure. I’m not sure if the film was trying to be sensitive to the gypsies or downplay them completely. That’s a bit awkward, probably not worth reading into as it seems the only reason Simsa (Rapace) is a gypsy is so they can dance around a campfire and find horses when they need them. It’s not much of a part. She stands around while Holmes and Watson investigate and throws out a question or two, but nothing that they couldn’t have asked each other. She follows and escapes with them too, but it’s Rapace’s presence that makes anything of the character at all.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is a solid sequel. Even though it gives us a lot to talk about, most of it is a faithful extension of the original (meaning the previous Sherlock film; so weird to call 2008’s Sherlock Holmes “the original”). Any underdevelopments aren’t enough to ruin a good time.