While I quite enjoyed the 2009 Guy Ritchie reinvention of the fabled observant detective in Sherlock Holmes, applying the same formula in this newer film Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows proved more a boring, tedious exercise in special effects and self-conscious film making and less an engaging and narratively ingenious film.
In the original books by Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes is a fastidious, rather odd bird with extraordinary knowledge and powers of observation. Famously able to deduce things from the tiniest speck of dust or wrinkle in a hem, he was the anti-hero, someone who was generally unlikeable but brilliant. Reimagined by directory Guy Ritchie and action star Robert Downey Jr. (think Iron Man), Holmes is completely different in A Game of Shadows and looks more like a homeless vagabond than a celebrated detective.
As with the books, the narrative is from the perspective of his long-suffering companion and friend Dr. John Watson (Jude Law), who applies his medical background and experience to aid in solving particularly perplexing mysteries. Except in A Game of Shadows, there’s not much mystery, there’s not really a case, there’s no client, and the story unfolds in an increasingly baffling and incoherent manner.
The story revolves around Holmes uncovering a plot by the nefarious Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris) to start a world war and then profit by selling arms and ammunition to both sides. Holmes rival and love interest Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) appears for a short time, to be replaced on screen with the more interesting Gypsy fortune teller Madame Simza (Noomi Rapace). Watson has just married Mary (Kelly Reilly) and it’s during their honeymoon that Holmes intervenes in a plot by Moriarty to murder Watson, conveniently sidetracking Mary for the rest of the film and forcing Watson to reluctantly take on this, their last case together.
The special effects are impressive, but even there the innovations of the first film are overused in this sequel to the point where it’s bizarre and at one point even breaks the narrative wall. Near the end of the film, Holmes plots out the specific moves he’ll use in a fight against arch-enemy Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris), who then looks at Holmes and says “two can play at that, sir” and similarly plots out, in graphic slow motion, his anticipated moves in the upcoming scuffle. But how does Moriarty know that Holmes was figuring out his attack?
I’ve always been a fan of the enigmatic, brilliant Sherlock Holmes, but I think that from a cinematic and narrative perspective Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows leaves a lot to be desired. It’s visually pretty, but there’s much that doesn’t make sense and Ritchie and Downey have created a completely new Holmes that has nothing to do with the fictional creation of Doyle and while it’s entertaining, it’s also overly long, tedious and confusing as heck. I’d wait until it’s on DVD and make sure you’ve got some popcorn to munch on during the overly long later scenes.