Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Sherlock Holmes 2 opened today. The full title is Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. While I won’t call this one a flop – disappointing comes to mind. Everything we loved about Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) & Dr. Watson (Jude Law) in the 2009 film – seems a tad stale when we see it yet again.

It’s all there – the banter, the stop-action aka slow-fast-slow action sequences, the gritty and sooty London, Irene Adler (briefly), Inspector Lestrade (he’s there but not so you’d notice) and Holmes’ keen eye (I see everything!, he tell us), plus the mandatory arch villain.

What’s not there is a lot of laughs.

The plot is the hackneyed ‘war profiteering’. Yes, Professor Moriarty is reduced to this banality. But it does take a while for him to tell us as much. Which leaves plenty of time for Holmes and Watson to travel from London to Dover where they board a steamer to cross the channel, then on to Paris, and ultimately Switzerland.

Along the way, Irene Adler, who once again is played by Rachel McAdams (above), comes and goes. Paving the way for Noomi Rapace to enter as the gypsy woman, Madam Simza, a role which garnered her lots of screen time, a few movie posters, and third billing behind only Downey and Law. But sadly, she was far more interesting as Lisbeth Salander.  As Simza, Noomi displayed a fabulous appearance but with a decidedly small range of facial expressions.

Stephen Fry (below center holding the glass) shows up as Holmes’s older brother Mycroft. He didn’t add much of anything to the plot except when he happened to be exactly where he was supposed to be when Watson’s bride, Mary, suddenly dropped in from an undisclosed location. On the other hand we saw far too much of Mycroft. I mean that literally as Mycroft had the film’s sole nude scene. Thank goodness for the careful blocking, camera placements, editing, and the strategically placed furniture.

Yes, Watson does actually marry Mary. Holmes got him to the church on time after his stag party ( a night filled with gambling, drinking, and fisticuffs) the night before. While Jude Law is actually quite good as Watson, I thought that he had fewer memorable (as in funny) lines than he had in the first film. But his performance was exemplary.

Holmes once more is scruffy from first frame to last. Downey is terrific as Holmes but I thought this time around – they added in even more physical stuff than last time, and that meant that some of Holmes working through a case, while putting the deductive reasoning on display, had to be jettisoned. Oh, they show you Holmes noticing everything, assimilating everything, and then rendering a conclusion based on what was just shown to us. But too often it’s just images that whiz by us at an intentionally faster pace than needed – effectively leaving us almost as puzzled by the explanation as we were before the facts were told to us by Holmes.

And that is the flaw in the film. Director Guy Ritchie has fallen in love with his digital gimmicks, toys, and other CGI effects. So much so, that this technical wizardry seems to have far greater importance rather than having a worthwhile story. We visit the interior of handguns and cannons, we see wood chips flying through the air, chimneys collapse, and there’s lots of explosions. All of it marvelously done yet distinctly unsatisfying.

Much of the film is dark and dreary, likely another necessary result of relying on mattes and CGI. As for the red-bearded Professor Moriarty, Jared Harris has the role. Moriarty is indeed Holmes’s intellectual equal, and his plotting is indeed done on a grand, and global scale – including not leaving any loose ends (almost); but he is not particularly evil or even scary.

He and Holmes have their final showdown over a game of Blitz Chess – even dispensing with the board and actually moving the pieces after a while. A verbal move such as Queen to Knight 3 lacks tension and excitement for me. Brilliant? Genius? Of course these fit Moriarty, but unfortunately these qualities don’t translate into him being a scintillating screen villain.

I’d say that this was a definite downturn from the first one, and they make sure that we know to expect a Sherlock Holmes 3. How do they do this? The last thing we see is a typed page (Watson’s manuscript) – where it reads, The End ?

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