I am now getting around to reviewing this film, as promised. Before we begin, let me say up front that yes, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is better than its predecessor. That said, it's still not the best film I've ever seen, but obviously, few are.
Completely forgetting the sequel hook involving new improvements in the science of radio, and thankfully touching on the occult background of Sherlock Holmes only briefly, this film opens with a series of apparent anarchist bombings, leading Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) to begin an investigation into the matter. Of course, Watson is getting married, and is about to go on his honeymoon, while Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) falls prey to the evil Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris), who Holmes will tell you is "the Napoleon of Crime," as he is described in the books. After one madcap set piece involving a train, Holmes and Watson set off for France and Germany to track down Moriarty, who is working with crack shot Sebastian Moran (Paul Anderson) to plunge the world into a war which he will profit from. Can Holmes and Watson, with a little help from Holmes' brother Mycroft (name dropped in the previous film, played here by Stephen Fry) stop Moriarty's dastardly plans, or will everything go straight to, uh, Hades?
While I still believe that this film repeats its predecessor's mistake by including a ludicrous amount of over the top action, unlike the previous film, it doesn't rely on it. It also helps that the action is far more badbutt that that of Sherlock Holmes. In relation to this first point, I was thrown for a loop when Holmes and Moriarty engage in an actual fist fight, or rather, they don't. I know they fought physically in the books, but there's no actual fight here, just a fake out or two. But still, the action is very well done, even if there is still too much of it.
Harris' Moriarty is a great villain, appearing far stronger in the first few minutes that Mark Strong's Lord Blackwood was in the entire first movie. His goals are far more interesting and detailed than Blackwood's were in the first film, though not by much. He's menacing, calculating, and even cool. You simply love to hate him. The best scenes in the film are between Holmes and Moriarty. There's also an even greater dynamic between Holmes and Watson than there was in the first movie, even if it's more of the same from the first movie. By that, I mean that it's the same recycled conflict of Watson not getting along with Holmes because he's getting married and moving out, kind of like they're *gasp* breaking up. This ties into some innuendo and gags concerning just how intimate Holmes and Watson's relationship is. I still don't understand why Hollywood can't get it through its head that two males being close friends doesn't necessarily mean a romantic relationship. It's just so frustrating! At least the characters are a bit more rounded here, with Holmes demonstrating both sides as clownish detective and a determined fighter for justice. Of course, I'm not sure exactly if his means of defeating Moriarty financially would actually work in real life. I'd refer the problem to Law and the Multiverse, but I think that 19th Century British law is a little out of their field.
Irene Adler is written out of the script pretty early, and is replaced by some gypsy woman (Noomi Rapace) with a basic motivation, no name that I can remember being mentioned, and unmemorable scenes, characterization, and dialogue. I would much preferred if they had stuck with Adler doing stuff with Holmes and Watson and further developing her character, instead of not going out with a bang. There might even have been a conflict between Adler and this woman, which would have made them both more interesting. Conflict over Holmes, maybe, perhaps with Adler getting jealous. Of course, Adler's not the only interesting supporting character inexplicably shunted aside. Where the heck is Lestrade? Wikipedia says that he's in it, but I might have missed him during that brief scene at Scotland Yard where Holmes briefly alluded to him. This film has lots of fan service for Sherlock Holmes fans, but at the same time ditches two of its most important characters in exchange for Mycroft Holmes and random gypsy lady.
Like the first film, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows can be funny when it wants to, but its humor borders on vulgar sometimes. This includes a moment when Watson's newlywed wife Mary (Kelly Reilly) finds herself staying in Mycroft's house, and then comes face to face with Mycroft wandering through his house in the altogether. A disgusting gimmick intended for cheap laughs if I ever saw one. In addition, this film suffers from Sherlock Holmes' problem of keeping viewers in the dark about Holmes' deductions until later, despite what Jeremy Jahns said in his review. Again, this is extremely frustrating, and Guy Ritchie or whoever the heck is responsible for writing this thing could stand to learn from BBC's Sherlock.
Also, remember what I said about Sherlock Holmes being clownish? He was in the first film and he remains so here. I picture Sherlock Holmes as being far more serious than he is here, and it feels like Sherlock is just channeling his performance as Tony Stark in the Iron Man movies sometimes. I theorized in a conversation with my friend Nate (the one who thinks that Superman: The Movie is the best superhero film of all time) that Downey's tenure as Iron Man may have affected his other performances, or perhaps he's simply been typecast. Either way, if there are any persons in the audience who have seen any of Downey's other movies made after Iron Man, then I'd like to hear your opinion.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is more introspective than Sherlock Holmes, and leaves a possible sequel hook in for number three, and yes, there will be a number three, in the form of Sebastian Moran. He was also a great secondary villain, and I'd love to see him return. It would be fitting if he did, as that would coincide with the character's scheduled appearance in the upcoming third season of Sherlock. Ending with a rushed denouement, this film pleases me more than the last film, but not by much. I wouldn't mind seeing it again, but I still prefer Sherlock. On a related note, I really should get around to reading those books.
Fun fact: I asked my mom why she liked Sherlock Holmes, and she simply replied that it was "fun." Yeah, I guess so, and I guess that's kind of why I liked "the Cape," which was essentially a live action cartoon, very much like Batman & Robin. But that's another post.
Image courtesy of beverlygray.blogspot.com