Picking up shortly after the first film, Sherlock Holmes is still in hot pursuit of Moriarty. The mastermind has been bombing multiple locations around England and causing a lot of stress upon Europe. Meanwhile, Watson has been busy preparing to get married over the last few months and, left alone, Holmes has been slowly losing his sanity ever since. It’s when the two go out for Watson’s stag party that plot begins to get put in motion. Holmes soon discovers that the closer he gets to Moriarty, the more at risk those around him become, and Holmes must do whatever he can to protect them.
The plot for the film is thinner then the twists and turns would leave you to believe and the end game hinges on a character connection that the film fails to develop. That connection is based around a gypsy fortune teller, Simza, and her brother whom is wrapped up in the world of Moriarty.
We never get to really know her, nor why we should care for her brother, other than the fact that they are important plot devices. The characterizations across the board are rather lacking and we never get to know any of the new faces. What drives Moriarty to being a master villain; what is the importance of Sherlock’s brother Mycroft; why does Mycroft show up to do nothing; why does Moriarity’s number two want to help in this sinister plot? None of these things are explored and it’s disappointing since all of these guys seem like they could be interesting characters if we got to know them at all. Irene Adler, from the first film, is also an interesting and conflicted character we get to know nothing more about here and one wonders why everything got so stripped down.
The stripping down of the characters was almost surely intended to streamline the picture into a more straight forward action film and thankfully for the creative team the action is pretty good. The film does take awhile to get going, the first 35 minutes or so of the film gets quite sloppy, but once Holmes and Watson are reunited on the train the film finds its rhythm. From here the film touches on a lot of the gimmicks of the first film, never quite as interesting or surpassing the original, but the banter and relationship of the leads keeps us engaged.
Guy Ritchie is sure to make the film look great and the production design can’t be faulted. While the super slow mo repeat here doesn’t touch the exploding factory bit in the first film, the imagery is still pretty cool none the less. The action beat on the train was the most fun of the picture and I wish they had some of that scenes ingenuity in the finale rather than just a dueling “Sherlocking” moment. And that castle, as beautiful as it is, I don’t think it could exist in real life; at least they used the waterfall to nice affect.
The film’s humor stays fairly intact over the course of the picture, thankfully, and that is due to the odd performance and demeanor of Robert Downey Jr.’s Holmes. Downey plays the part even one more wavelength off from everyone else this time around and the character is better for it. He makes Holmes such a joy to watch that it makes the film’s short comings easier to swallow. Downey’s relationship with Law is almost equally compelling and is again another big plus for the movie. Law’s Watson was one of my favorite elements of the first film and he doesn’t disappoint in the sequel. He is clearly having a lot of fun in the role and his presence is infectious. The rest of the cast doesn’t really stand up to the leads, but as I mentioned above they don’t have a lot to do either. Jared Harris is a bit too one dimensional as Moriarty and I never really was all that scared of him. Stephen Fry gets to act silly once or twice as the ever happy Mycroft, but again, nothing compelling here. Noomi Rapace makes her English language debut as Simza and while she doesn’t get anything interesting to do either, she at least showed she might be able to transition from being just the Swedish “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”
In the end, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is a fun enough time but I’m not sure if I would take it over the original. Good action and the great duo of Downey and Law make the film worth watching; just don’t expect much else beyond having a good time. A bit more character development and plot could have gone a long way here and I hope in the eventual sequel they try to mix things up a bit instead of giving us a safe and familiar sequel.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is a B-