The success of “Sherlock Holmes” in 2009 certainly opened up Warner Bros.’ pockets wide enough to give director Guy Ritchie a bit of free reign over the sequel. His choice of what do with that cash, however, didn’t have to be as straightforward as it is in “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.” In other words, there are explosions. Lots of slow motion and lots of explosions.
Just as the first film was about witty banter and bare-knuckle action, “Game of Shadows” follows suit to an even greater degree. Perhaps it’s the inclusion of Holmes’ arch nemesis in Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris) that would lead one to believe a greater degree of intellectual thought and mystery would be infused into this second outing, but he serves merely to up the stakes as far as what Holmes must overcome to outsmart someone as clever as he.
“Game of Shadows” is a chaotic action ride that jumps willy-nilly from locale to locale (London, Paris, Germany, Switzerland). It moves so quickly that if you blink you’ll miss the reasoning for going from Point A to Point B, even though it hardly matters in the long run. All parts of the mystery are explained/introduced before you can even begin to process them and suddenly we’re in the throws of a new action sequence.
As far as non-stop entertainment goes, here’s a blockbuster that doesn’t dawdle, though every so often that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Fans of the traditional Arthur Conan Doyle character who figured for some reason this would be a return to form compared to the 2009 film will be sadly mistaken yet again. There’s not much mystery to savor, just the endless pursuit of Moriarty and an attempt to uncover and foil his plans.
Stars Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law as Holmes and Dr. Watson are as sharp as ever in this new adventure, with Watson getting a bit bigger of a spotlight this time around. His impending marriage helps to further the emotional divide between him and his partner and makes their banter all the more effective.
The story, for what little of it matters, involves Holmes’ pursuit of his soon-to-be rival, a man he believes responsible for a series of highly political bombings. After Holmes saves a gypsy named Sim (Noomi Rapace) from being one of Moriarty’s expenditures and Watson’s honeymoon is interrupted by machine-gun fire, they head to Paris to pursue Moriarty, though Holmes knows that his rival has threatened Watson if he does not relent.
The new faces in the series, which in addition to Sim and Moriarty includes Stephen Fry as Sherlock’s infinitely more logical yet no less quirky brother Mycroft, don’t do too much for the film, Sim in particular. Moriarty is the necessary foil for Holmes, the Joker to his Batman to say the least, and Mycroft always ends up being one of those nice change-of-pace characters in the Holmes universe, but Rapace is rather wasted as Sim. She’s not a love interest and she just goes along for the ride. Her motivation is typical and uncomplicated, though the same can be said with all the characters, even Moriarty, who though formidable should come across even more menacing than he does.
Ritchie turns all the action scenes in “Shadows” into his slow-motion playground. One particular scene involves Holmes, Watson and Sim running through the woods as Germans launch all matter of artillery at them. We get various isolation shots on the characters as they run and inside looks at how the artillery fires, not to mention trees exploding at a snail’s pace. Any thought that something other than purely stylish entertainment lies in store dies in this scene.
To be fair, however, the final act in Switzerland proves to be the film’s best. Here, deduction plays its biggest role as Watson and Sim try to identify a man surgically altered to look like another and Holmes and Moriarty engage in a game of chess in which chess is completely secondary. It’s a gripping and fun final scene that captures everything Ritchie’s vision of Holmes is about. Although Sherlock’s internal thought process breaking down how to attack his adversary flirts with being too much in terms of using that same technique over and over again, the end results of the scene proves to be most intriguing.
“A Game of Shadows” is infinitely more engaging than stimulating, though certainly to some those qualities are interchangeable, and this second outing for the reinvented Holmes will be a mild affair. With as many sharp and wild turns as the film takes, however, not to mention the exploding that happens around each corner, boring will not likely cross many minds.