Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows (2011) Review (PG-13)

I’ll say up front, I was all in. I enjoyed the first film in this updated series, despite its departure from what most fans of the Arthur Conan Doyle stories had come to expect. This is an Americanized version… No, you can’t even call this a contemporary American take on Sherlock Holmes (and Guy Ritchie is British, isn’t he?). It’s clearly aimed at an American summer audience while posing as something that is based on classic literature, though. This Sherlock Holmes doesn’t solve mysteries. This guy has super powers. He’s an action humor. The wit isn’t dry. It’s completely soaked. If the Hound of the Baskervilles shows up, it’s liable to fart.

And the explosions! Gigantic, luminous fireballs! Extreme close-ups of objects shattering! In Slo-Mo no less! As I said, I was all in.

I was expecting the emphasis on ‘new technology’ of the time that comes within an eyelash of steampunk… The extreme slow motion shots, extended just long enough for any nerd couplings in the audience to turn to one another and utter “Kewwwl” to one another without missing anything.

I WANTED the massive explosions. The snappy banter… Robert Downey Jr. reprising the title role in Full Hambone Mode… Jude Law as Watson perpetually annoyed and flummoxed by Holes… The lovely Rachel McAdams in all her glory for a full two hours… And this one I estimated would HAVE to feature Holmes’ arch-nemesis Moriarty (whom should have been a headliner in the first film of the series).

I got everything I was hoping for (and more), except for two hours of McAdams. In fact, if you blink, you might miss her in this. In fact,  both women from the original, McAdams and Kelly Reilly (Watson’s fiancee in both films), get the short shrift. The early scenes seem to be working towards how to get them both out of the picture. The only substantial female presence in the film is played by Swedish actress Noomi Rapace (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo That Played With Fire Before Kicking The Hornet’s Nest) and she’s kind of more like ‘one of the boys’ in this.

Okay, that wasn’t a shot at  the lovely Ms. Rapace. She has quite a striking (and unusual-looking) appearance. I don’t even mean that there has to be a love interest (that angle). I just mean at the end of the film, her character, who is one of the four most important parts, is little more than a cypher. Even though her acting style in the four movies that I’ve seen her in consists mostly of a blank frown, she actually emotes quite a bit.  I don’t blame the actress. That’s the script/director’s fault.

Listen to me. I’m nitpicking. This film was quite a bit of fun. I liked the original quite a lot, and I enjoyed this one even more, even with what they do to the McAdams character 5 minutes in… um, sorry. Was that a spoiler? Visually, it is an impressive film. I felt like I was immersed in a lavish, idealized 1891. The architecture and the way that it’s lit is spectacular. With the all of the onscreen textures and smoke, it’s about as close as you can get to Smell-o-vision without actual olfactory based technology.

The  film very quickly introduces Moriarty, played by Jared Harris (who I last saw in John Carpenter’s The Ward). Keeping in step with the material’s overhaul, there is no mystery as to who the villain is. There is no gradual buildup. You wouldn’t be surprised if there wasn’t a Holmes knows who the villain is. He knows a number of horrible things that the man and his henchmen have been involved with, he just doesn’t have the evidence that would lead to the man’s incarceration.

He also doesn’t know what ultimate scheme that Moriarty is trying to set in motion. I have to say that the sequel was far easier to follow than the original was (at times). The overall storytelling was better.  The details that Holmes draws from are easier to connect, too. They seemed almost random when taking in the images that were running through the mind of Holmes in the original film.

Anyway… The plot was BIGGER in the way that it took the story out of London. Now it’s international. They play up the fact that (even though it’s in 1891) thee is evidence of The War To End All Wars is on the horizon. Moriarty is of course at the heart of the machinations to create anarchy across Europe and the world.


Once again, Dr. Watson (Law) wants no part of traipsing around at the beck and call of Sherlock Holmes. He’s preparing for a quiet married life, but Holmes has a knack for striking bargains and making ultimatums in order for Watson to go along for the ride. The heart of the two films (as with all of the Sherlock Holmes stories) is the archetypical  relationship between the two main characters. Downey Jr. has always had great comic timing. A quick wit. Jude Law has had the same, maybe moreso. He possesses that natural British sarcasm. The two are practically a comedy duo.

Taking the place of McAdams in this, is the already alluded to Noomi Rapace. She plays a Gypsy fortune teller that is targeted for assassination because of her ties to a group that Moriarty may have been involved with. There’s no need to say anymore than that about the plot. Some things that were predictable to me, but the ending was something of a cliffhanger; one of those “Whoa! What just happened?!” moments. And there’s even an Eddie Marsan appearance, who plays the thick headed Inspector Lestrade that further connects the two films.Marsan’s great in everything he’s in. It’s too bad this was just a cameo.

This one was completely worth the trip to the movie theater. I’m sure it will be in the running for my ‘Best Film of 2011’ (partially because I’ve stuck to ‘popcorn’ movies this year). There will obviously be a sequel. I’ll look forward to seeing it.

4.5 of 5





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