Originally Reviewed – 1/2/2012
Two years ago, on a random evening in January, I popped into the AMC on 34th Street and saw the original Sherlock Holmes. Being a chilly night with a nothing to do, I figured why not. Robert Downey Jr is an enjoyable actor, Guy Ritchie has a fun visual style and I had ten bucks left on an AMC gift card. The result was an entertaining but convoluted effort, full of energetic fight sequences and high octane sleuthing. Sure, it had next to nothing to do with the novel series by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but it was a fun go-round, highlighted by a charming performance by Downey and some explosive Victorian era set pieces. Upon seeing the trailer for the sequel, the same old action would have satisfied me and to my delight, I got quite a bit more. The second iteration in the detective series tightens up everything in the first film, providing a movie that delivers even more on the promise of the original.
Game of Shadows takes place one year after the events of the first film. Watson is about to be married and Holmes is investigating the assassination of the Crown Prince of Austria, with all the clues pointing at the great Professor Moriarty. Deducing that the killing is just one piece of Moriaty’s master scheme, Holmes pulls the reluctant Watson away from his honeymoon and throws him in the quest to stop the evil doctor’s nefarious scheme. The plot is just as silly as the first movie but has a more streamlined script, giving the film more room to revel in the swashbuckling we’ve come to expect from the franchise. If you hated the action from the first movie, you’ll despise the second but being that I found it to be over the top fun, I had an absolute blast.
Before you balk at my enjoyment of the action, know one thing: I don’t give a turkey about Sherlock Holmes. I’ve never read the stories nor have I never seen any of the many screen adaptations, so my knowledge of the character is limited to his cunning and his trademark pipe. Many critics have been blasting the new series for having little to do with these classic stories and to them I say, “So what”. One of the biggest improvements this film makes over the first is the introduction of Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris). Harris’ Moriarty is cunning and devious, a perfect foil to Holmes’ charming genius. The film benefits greatly from this strong antagonist, making the sequel more about a match of brainpans than the video game style fisticuffs of the first movie.
Game of Shadows also benefits from a larger focus on the relationship between Holmes and Watson, again played by Jude Law. The chemistry between the two sleuths was the highlight of the first film and this movie amplifies the back and forth between the duo. While the dialogue does have some cringe moments, the two actors are genuinely having a good time and, in this situation, it works just fine. Watson’s preference of settling down with his new wife in favor of adventuring with Holmes also adds some much needed tension between the twosome. This allows the relationship to feel more real and less like a buddy cop movie. The supporting actors all do a respectable job, including a fitfully funny turn by Stephen Fry as Holmes’ elder brother, Noomi Rapace as a hard fighting gypsy and Kelly Reilly as Watson’s newlywed wife. The cast is appropriately colorful and just fine in support of the dynamic duo. As for the rest of the movie, if you got a kick out of the first film’s kinetic filmmaking style, you get more of the same this time around. Be forewarned, however, that this version does slightly overdo the slow motion effects but I didn’t find it overly distracting.
The world of Sherlock Holmes is a long revered franchise that spans centuries of classic stories and films. While Guy Ritchie’s interpretation may rub long time fans the wrong way with its hyper fist fighting and loud gun battles, the crux of the character is intact. Holmes is an investigative genius, has a dear friend in Watson and together they solve near impossible mysteries. The second film in the series focuses more on the investigation and the Holmes / Watson relationship while maintaining the modern pace of the first movie. Director Guy Ritchie refines everything that made the original so divisive yet so entertaining, creating a nicely balanced action spectacle. Sure, the plot has some head scratching moments, and the premise is almost too over the top for its own good, but the focus of this film is fun and fun is what it delivers. A marked improvement over the original, Games of Shadows is a fine choice for those looking for a vapid yet entertaining time at the movies this winter.
Score – 70%