Movie Review – Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows

In a rare case of a sequel actually improving on the original, Downey Jr and Law once more dominate proceedings as Holmes and Watson respectively, with a more than capable turn by Jared Harris as Moriarty adding some sadistic spice to the story.


– Summary –

Director :  Guy Ritchie
Year Of Release :  2011
Principal Cast : Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Jared Harris, Stephen Fry, Kelly Reilly, Rachel McAdams, Eddie Marsan.
Approx Running Time :  129 Minutes
Synopsis:  Sherlock Holmes and his associate, Dr Watson, must uncover the plans for world domination by evil mastermind Moriarty, before the world plunges into war and a new age of weaponry is unleashed.
What we think :  In a rare case of a sequel actually improving on the original, Downey Jr and Law once more dominate proceedings as Holmes and Watson respectively, with a more than capable turn by Jared Harris as Moriarty adding some sadistic spice to the story. The script is deftly written, the chemistry between Holmes and Moriarty sizzling (although the same can’t be said of Holmes and Watson, this time) and the production values once more impress. Sheer entertainment does exactly what you’d hope it would – entertain – while keeping modern audiences from nodding off with some whizz-bang action sequences.


Holmes and hosed.

Fans of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famed literary creation have had a pretty good time of it lately. Guy Ritchie’s foray into the world of Sherlock Holmes, both in this film and its 2009 forebear, seems to have accompanied the highly impressive television iteration as developed by current Doctor Who showrunner Stephen Moffat. What’s interesting to note about both versions, produced almost simultaneously, is that the cinematic version is more muscular in its action quotient, while the television series (at the time of writing this review two series have been produced, each starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and soon-to-be-Bilbo Baggins, Martin Freeman, as Watson) engages in an increased cerebral level. Downey Jr’s Holmes portrayal, unlike Cumberbatch’s more insular version, is less arrogant in his dealings with others than previous incarnations, in my opinion, and to that effect makes him more accessible as a character. Whereas the BBC series uses Dr Watson as our link to Holmes, and we view the great detective’s actions through a less intellectual mind, Jude Law’s Watson seems like a second-string character with no real depth in the film editions. The problem with Watson and Holmes is that Watson effectively plays Robin to Holmes’ Batman – they’re a team but not quite, because you always know Batman can do it on his own. The fact of the matter is, perhaps in this film more than any other I’ve seen, Holmes doesn’t actually seem to need Watson to be around; in light of Watson’s impending marriage, Watson doesn’t even want to be around anyway, so keeping them together is perhaps the most problematic aspect of the entire production. That being said, there’s something cool about seeing Downey Jr run rings around the entire cast in this action-packed adventure ride.

This ISN’T the Cowboys & Aliens sequel?

Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr) intercepts a bomb delivered by Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) to a Doctor Hoffmanstahl, only to learn that Adler is poisoned by the cruel Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris), who has plans for world domination that mean he must eliminate the great detective. Holmes, who finds he’s about to lose Doctor Watson (Jude Law) to being married (to his long term girl, Mary Morstan, played again by Kelly Reilly) encounters gypsy fortune-teller Simza (Nooma Rapace), whose brother it seems is about to assassinate a high ranking political figure at a Switzerland peace summit – apparently, the world is on the brink of war, thanks to the machinations of Moriarty. Together with Simza, Watson and Holmes unravel Moriarty’s plans in a do-or-die effort to save the world from all out war.

Dancing With The Stars has upped its production value somewhat!

A Game Of Shadows is loosely – very loosely – influenced by Conan Doyle’s original novel, The Final Problem, a story in which Holmes met his literary death alongside Moriarty as they plummeted over the Reichenbach Falls (a story also homaged in the third episode of Season Two of the television series). From what I’ve been able to determine, the film is essentially a completely new tale of the great detective, with glimpses and pinches of other stories thrown in just to make sure the fans have something to look for. The script, by Kieren and Michele Mahoney, rattles along with barely a pause for breath, as Holmes and Watson traverse not only England, but half of continental Europe in their pursuit and battle with Moriarty. What I really liked about A Game Of Shadows is that it just jumps right into the story; there’s no set-up, no “in the previous installment” routine or any other such contrivance – instead, we’re thrown headlong into a nice pre-credits sequence reminiscent of James Bond as Holmes saves the day when a parcel bomb threatens to explode in public. Without giving away too large a spoiler, Rachel McAdam’s character from the previous film, Irene Adler, is killed off in this sequence, a brave and audacious move from Guy Ritchie and his team, underlining just how serious the new threat of Moriarty is to become. The man plays for keeps, and while I’m sorry she had to go to advance the plot, it’s a well done moment that actually moves the audience.

What happens at Jude Law’s wrap parties….

Guy Ritchie, best known outside of his Holmes films for British crime cinema like Snatch and Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, is fast becoming a pretty decent director of large-scale action scenes, as we witness in this film.The action sequences are impressive, from a train-bound shootout to the desperate fleeing from large-scale heavy weaponry engaged by Moriarty and his cohorts, Ritchie captures the dirt and danger of every bullet, punch and earthen sod flying through the air with sizzling tenacity. This film buzzes with energy, thanks largely to a fat-free screenplay and an engaging performance from Downey Jr, yet mainly thanks to Hans Zimmer’s pulsating musical score. From a technical perspective, this is Ritchie’s most accomplished film yet, as he brings his entire bag of tricks to play in this single film. While I think the television series arguably portrays Holmes’ deductions with more panache, Ritchie delivers it with a heft and weight only widescreen can bring. Indeed, this is a muscular production in every sense; the sets design, the locations (especially the use of Strasbourg Cathedral in the opening sequence) and the visual dynamics on display, all keep the audience engaged and the action bustling along. It’s terrific fun.

Just so you know, underneath these clothes I’m naked!

Ritchie also has a handle on his cast, reining in Downey Jr’s flamboyant caricature of the central character of Holmes so he never becomes too cartoonish – which I found problematic in the first film in this series – instead giving him a gritty, somewhat darker tone in keeping with the stakes on offer. Jude Law plays second fiddle once again, and if I was going to pick a point on which to be slightly negative with the movie, it’s the treatment of his character, Dr Watson, in it. In the original Sherlock Holmes, Watson was on equal footing story-wise with Holmes, an able assistant whom Holmes couldn’t quite do without. In A Game Of Shadows, Watson seems to have retreated to the background, becoming something of an incidental character who just happens to share some screen time with Holmes. Jude Law seems to feel it too, with a lackluster portrayal of the character that gives you the sense he’s only doing this for the money. Moriarty is ably essayed by Jared Harris, in a more subdued and less insane manner than the television series’ incumbent, Andrew Scott. Harris is sly, deliciously evil, and seemingly in complete control the entire time. It’s hard to gauge which portrayal is the more effective, since they both contain trace elements of classic Villain tones and traits, yet I find Scott’s perhaps to be more to my personal taste. Which is all it could ever be about, really. Harris is a delight, regardless.

Frankly, my dear Holmes, I don’t give a damn about your deductions….

The second tier cast are also up to the challenge, with newcomer to the franchise Noomi Rapace (more recently seen in Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel-of-sorts, Prometheus) as gypsy woman Simza, who herself is on the search for her missing brother in the city of London. It’s this key story point which keeps her and Holmes together for a large portion of the film, since her brother is instrumental in the success of Moriarty’s overall plan. Rapace seems to be having fun, as the fighting gypsy who stands on her own two feet (much like Irene Adler did in the first film) and is the equal to Holmes in terms of character, yet I got the feeling that Rapace seemed overawed to be in such a large-scale production alongside her co-stars, and she seems somewhat withdrawn into herself… perhaps it’s the direction she was given, or the scripting (her character seems a tad generic) but I felt she underplayed the role somewhat. Lastly, I want to touch on British actor Stephen Fry, who delivers one of the… starkest performances I’ve ever seen from him, baring all in the name of a good laugh. How Ritchie conned him into portraying Holmes’s brother Mycroft as so outstandingly gay is beyond me, but it actually works. Take that, Mark Gatiss!

As always, it was ladies first….

A Game Of Shadows is a ripping adventure film of the highest order, and for all the flaws it might contain there’s a sense of genuine fun and audience engagement (again, thanks largely to Downey Jr, who can do no wrong in performance, it seems!) that pushes those complaints to one side in the name of sheer entertainment. There’s laughs, scares, thrills and spills; everything you could ask for from a modern adventure film where the central character can not only use his fists (and he does, repeatedly) but can out-think his opponents three or four steps in advance. I utterly enjoyed A Game Of Shadows.

Here are some other opinions on A Game Of Shadows:

Jonathan Lack hated it: ““Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” is everything we feared the first “Sherlock Holmes” would be before it was released in 2009: loud, obnoxious, overblown, action-riddled, overtly comedic, disrespectful to the source material, and above all, stupid in ways only a pandering American production could be.”

Dan The Man didn’t think much of it either: “I don’t even think Sherlock himself could figure out what the hell was going on here.”

Tom Clift was pleasantly surprised: “What does come as a surprise is that, unlike most Hollywood sequels, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows does not disappoint, but rather delivers on all the humour and excitement (and vaguely homoerotic banter between its leading men) that made its predecessor such a delight.”

Sam at Duke & The Movies didn’t like it… “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows does something not many films could accomplish: creating a picture that effectively wastes the effortless talents of its cast.”

Stevee at Cinematic Paradox found it to contain… well…: “I appear to have a lot more slow motion.”

Colin at Nevermind Pop Film enjoyed it: “Ritchie notches up the stylistic tone for Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows and while a majority of it works, a few notable scenes detract attention away from the characters.”

Seen this film? What did you think? Tell us down in the comments section!!


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10 thoughts on “Movie Review – Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows

    1. Not being overly familiar with the bulk of Doyle's work, I can't claim to be right up with how accurate (or not) this variant of the Sherlock story is, but I really did enjoy it.

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