I was very excited coming out of the movie theater when I saw the first Sherlock Holmes starring the nearly-always likable Robert Downey, Jr. (Holmes) and Jude Law (Watson). Sure, the movie suffered from a lack of plot direction and overall muddled storyline, but I very much enjoyed the style of the film. While it was admittedly not a terribly faithful adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels, I thought the interplay between Watson and Sherlock was quite fun and I enjoyed their interpretations of the characters. When the sequel was announced and the issues I had with the first film were purportedly to be fixed (most notably the meandering plotline) I was quite excited to see Law and Downey, Jr. back up on the silver screen.
Unfortunately, not even the fondness I have for the chemistry between the leads can keep the sequel film, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, from succumbing to its most glaring issues. First and foremost, I think it is safe to say that Guy Ritchie should probably find some other franchise to work on. The first Sherlock was a fun film that benefited from Ritchie’s knack for witty banter and big explosions, but if the series is to succeed, we really need a director to step in who is willing to emphasize the other aspects of the Sherlock universe.
The primary issue with the direction is that Ritchie is a one-note pony. When it comes to big set-piece action sequences, he’s the man to do it in style – but when it comes down to it, the original Sherlock Holmes stories were about the character and the mystery, and not about wood splintering in impossibly slow motion. His propensity for sticking this time-dilation gimmick into every action scene begins to wear thin on the audience before the grand finale even starts, which is a shame because the finale is when that particular technique feels most appropriate.
What is almost more frustrating is that throughout the movie, there were plenty of opportunities for really amazing artistic choices that Ritchie didn’t seem to want to take. While some scenes were truly beautiful in spite of this, the falling scene being the most obvious example, it is upsetting to imagine what might have come from the director had he thought outside the box. In short, although I have nothing against Guy Ritchie per se as a director, the studio and the producers of the film should really examine their choices on the next go-round and see if he is still the best fit for the franchise.
Movie goers will likely make the inevitable comparisons to the first Sherlock, which unfortunately further detracts from A Game of Shadows. It is not until the last 10-20 minutes of the movie that it even begins to echo the whimsy of the first film. It is in these last few scenes that I started to have faith that RDJ’s Holmes series was not dead in the water, but it also helped me better assess why the first hour or so was so off. The ending is quite cute and fun, and even manages to reference a bit from the first part of the film that wasn’t quite as amusing the first time around – but Ritchie takes his time getting there.
And then there’s Professor Moriarty. As an antagonist with clearer motivations, Moriarty becomes a mostly superior villain to Lord Blackwood from Sherlock Holmes. Throughout the film, we do get a clear sense of his intellect and his desire to match wits with Sherlock. At one point, during a torture scene, we get to see how especially evil his character can be. I look forward to seeing him again in a more substantial capacity later on, assuming he is the villain in subsequent entries.
Unfortunately, this villainous improvement falls by the wayside when the plot (sort of) comes into focus. The storyline simply lacks depth or any sense of urgency. It is particularly damning that we are told as the story climaxes that Moriarty’s master plan will come to fruition with or without the criminal professor’s help. So what’s the point of any of characters’ efforts, hero or villain?
I will say that it is nice that A Game of Shadows follows some logical consistency where the first film did not, but that’s about all I can say. It is strange how another 2011 film, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, was far more complicated, and yet Sherlock was the one that left the waters of comprehension more muddy when I left the theater. What the franchise needs now in order to maintain its diminishing momentum is a true storyteller to come in as a writer or director for the next film.
In conclusion, I would have to warn against seeing this film, even if you are a fan of its prequel. A Game of Shadows isn’t bad – but it’s far from good and it hardly meets the expectations of the fans. The only reason I’d recommend it is to find out where the third movie will pick up, if it does indeed get made. In other words, see it for the canonical connector content or don’t see it at all.
Verdict: Movie Meh